Knowing When to Call it Quits in Psychotherapy
Part 1: Setting the Expectations

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
September 20, 2004


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As often as people ask a question about how to begin therapy, folks don't seem to ask how they will know it's time to call it quits. Psychotherapy involves a relationship between two people and ending any social or professional relationship can be difficult. Therapists are trained to know how to successfully end a therapeutic relationship in a healthy, positive manner. Despite their training, however, sometimes the therapist doesn't know exactly when to end therapy. This article is meant to help you understand and learn to look for the signs of when it may be time to end your therapy.

Setting the Expectations

Some people go into therapy thinking it's a lifetime commitment. Unless you're Woody Allen or otherwise well-off, most people do not stay in therapy for more than a year or two. In today's practice of psychotherapy, clinicians focus on helping people solve their issues in a time-limited environment. Managed care has had something to do with that, but it also makes a lot of sense. Most research shows that for the most common mental health concerns - such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder - cognitive-behavioral approaches work effectively in short amounts of time.

What exactly is a "short amount of time?" That depends not only on the type and severity of the problem, but also the client's personality and coping skills. Additionally, more skilled and experienced therapists tend to have slightly quicker and more robust positive outcomes than less experienced clinicians. Research shows that many people for many common mental health concerns will begin experiencing positive gains in therapy in as little as 6 to 12 sessions. At one session per week, that translates into feeling between in 2-3 months.

In practice, however, gains often take longer because people are usually a little more complex (and therapists a little less focused on only problem-solving) in the real world. In the real world, you can expect gains to take up to three times longer. You should definitely start seeing improvements in that first 2-3 months. But long-term improvement and long-lasting gains may take from 6 to 12 months to fully realize with an experienced therapist.

Remember, these numbers are just averages for common problems such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy is rarely conducted in a vacuum, which means the messiness and complexity of life can often interfere with treatment. The best treatment also usually involves a combination approach of psychotherapy and medications.

» Next in Series: Recognizing the Signs
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Oct 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.
-- Oscar Wilde