Life is stressful. There’s no escaping that simple fact, and all too often, the stress overpowers us. Counselling can be a powerful tool in the fight against stress, and if you suffer from a mental illness, therapy can prove invaluable. Fully 14% of the population experiences a mental illness each year, but only about 10% of those people seek the help they deserve.
If you’re considering therapy, you might be worried that the process will be endless, taxing, and pricey. Therapy is surprisingly affordable, though, and you don’t have to be in therapy forever to get results.
The Role of Treatment Goals
Therapy that works begins with clear treatment goals. After all, you have no way of knowing you’re making progress if you don’t know what progress looks like. Ultimately, the length of therapy depends on the complexity of these treatment goals. Working through decades of trauma, for instance, is typically more complex than trying to lose five or 10 pounds, and will likely take longer than a simpler goal.
Likewise, the length of your treatment may depend on the number of treatment goals you set. You might enter counselling to attempt to repair your marriage, but end up deciding you want to change the way you interact with people or lose weight. As you add treatment goals, therapy may begin taking a little longer.
How Long is Long Enough?
As with most things in life, it’s better to stay in therapy a bit too long than not long enough. Therapy takes time to work; a single session won’t change the way you’ve been doing things for your whole life. Instead, think about the severity of your problem and how much it has affected your life. Consider how difficult if has been to eliminate, then think calmly and reasonably about how long you think it will take to replace problematic old habits with better, healthier new ones. For most habits, that’s going to be somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months.
A Collaborative Approach
Therapy is not something that’s done to you; nor is it something you do all by yourself. The best therapy is a collaboration, which means you and your therapist work together to set treatment goals. From the outset, your therapist should discuss with you how long you can expect treatment to take. Be sure to ask what, if anything, you can do to expedite treatment.
Time to Say Goodbye?
Therapy doesn’t only end when you reach your goals; in some cases, you may exhaust your therapist’s resources. For instance, if you originally sought assistance for a problem in your marriage, but have since experienced a trauma for which you need treatment, your therapist might suggest you try someone else. No therapist can specialize in everything, and sometimes your therapist is no longer able to help—either because your issues change or because they turn out to be different or more complex than they first appeared.
It’s time to say goodbye to your therapist if you’re no longer making progress. But it’s only time to quit therapy if you’ve achieved your goals, so be honest with yourself before deciding you’ve permanently graduated from the world of psychotherapy.