Potential Clients Often Ask, "how long will couples therapy last?" and, "how often Should we meet?"
There are two ways to answer these questions. The first is based on clinical research and the second is based on personal experience. Both approaches provide largely similar answers.
What the research says
Researchers study different schools of therapy and seek to provide what sort of counseling, how much counseling, and what conditions create the best outcomes.
Here is a summary of some research findings:
Couples typically attend between 10 - 16 sessions, but can vary widely.
Therapy is the shortest when couples agree on one and only one specific issue, the typical duration of 6-8 sessions. These couples are most likely to return to therapy at some point over the next year, implying that there is usually more than one simple problem when couples turn to therapy.
Emotionally Focused Therapy, which I practice, averages 10-14 sessions, and can include multiple issues. Most couples I see fall into this category.
Even couples with complex cases who were offered up to 26 free meetings rarely attended more than 22 sessions before considering therapy resolved.
Couples report noticing benefits to their relationship and improvement in communications within the first 4-5 sessions.
A second round of deeper and more meaningful change often occurs at 10-16 weeks.
Weekly sessions produced the greatest improvements in functioning and longer lasting benefits.
Tapering sessions is important to cementing improvements. When finishing therapy, tapering means first moving to every other week, and then a couple of monthly check in consultations.
What I notice in practice
These observations are based on the couples who have visited my office over the last several years. In some areas, I agree with the research, but in other areas the research seems to be missing some important data.
I agree with the 10-14 week average.
Couples who wait longer to start therapy need more sessions to overcome negative impressions of their partner and often have more wounds to work through.
Couples who have been fighting for years usually require in excess of 20 sessions to learn unlearn bad habits and implement new patterns of communicating and interacting.
It is important that couples figure out a time they can meet regularly with the therapist. Couples who attend weekly make the best progress. Every other week is also a viable option, though the process usually takes a longer.
Couples who attend less than every other week tend to stagnate early in the process and take much longer to see lasting and meaningful improvements.
Co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, past traumas, or other concerns can also mean more visits.
Tapering at the end of therapy is very beneficial to helping improvements last. The couple will learn new skills and ways of sharing during therapy, but road bumps occur while putting new habits into practice.
Couples counseling works. I see it in my office every day.
But, every couple is different and every individual in a couple is different. So, it's hard to predict how long you and your partner will need before we've met and talked.
If you have more questions, or if you'd like to set up an appointment, click the button below and contact me.