When it comes to taking care of our mental health, therapy can be an incredibly valuable tool. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore our thoughts and feelings, process difficult emotions, and learn new coping strategies. Whether you are experiencing a mental health crisis or just want to work on yourself, therapy can help. But how often should you go to therapy?
Typically, therapy sessions are scheduled once a week. Still, some people may benefit from more frequent sessions, such as two or three times per week. On the other hand, other individuals may only need to attend therapy once or twice a month. Less frequent sessions are helpful if the individual doesn’t have pressing mental health issues or has been in therapy for a while and is seeing improvements.
In this article, we will explore the factors that can impact how often you should go to therapy, the most common therapy types, and how to determine the right therapy schedule and frequency for you.
Factors to consider
Several factors can impact how often you should go to therapy, including the severity of your mental health issues, the type of therapy you’re receiving, and your personal goals. Therapy is highly personalized, and what works for one person may not work for another. Also, as you go through your healing journey, the frequency of your therapy sessions will change.
Below you can find some of the factors that can affect how often you should go to therapy.
1. Severity of your mental health
The severity of your mental health challenges is an essential factor to consider when determining how often you should go to therapy. As you begin your healing journey, your feelings, thoughts, and experiences might feel heightened or more intense. This is normal because you are diving into uncharted waters. Therefore, more frequent sessions might be needed at the beginning of your therapy journey.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as depression or severe anxiety, you may need to go to therapy more frequently. This might include 2 or 3 sessions a week. On the other hand, if you are experiencing milder symptoms and are not diagnosed with any mental disorders, 1 session a week would be sufficient.
2. type of therapy
The type of therapy you’re receiving is another factor to consider. Different types of therapy have different treatment plans and schedules. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) typically involves weekly sessions for several months, while Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) may involve both individual and group therapy sessions several times per week.
Specific mental health treatment techniques, such as ‘Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing’ (EMDR) therapy, usually take between 6 to 12 sessions. Therefore, during the time of this treatment, you might have to see your therapist more often. Once the treatment is over, you might schedule less frequent sessions.
The type of therapy you’re receiving will affect how frequently you need to go to therapy. On the other hand, specific treatment techniques within your therapy sessions might lead to an increase or decrease in sessions for a fixed/temporary period.
3. personal goals
Your personal goals are also a crucial factor in determining how often you should go to therapy. Suppose you have specific goals you want to achieve, such as managing anxiety or improving relationships. In that case, you may need to go to therapy more frequently.
More frequent sessions are expected if it is your first time working with a therapist. You will learn many new tools and techniques, working through your thoughts and feelings. During this period, a lot of unconscious or suppressed information might surface. For me, it felt like I was opening a Pandora’s box! Therefore, I had weekly or twice-weekly sessions in the first year of working with my therapist.
On the other hand, if you are using therapy to maintain good mental health and have no pressing challenges to work through, you may only need to go to therapy once per month or less. Working with a therapist might be more like having somebody accountable to check in with that can help you track your progress.
Types of therapy
Different types of therapy can impact how often you should go to therapy. Below you can find some general guidelines for the frequency that most common types of therapies might require.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on the relationship between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is based on the idea that negative or distorted thoughts can lead to negative emotions and behaviors. By identifying and challenging these thoughts, a person can improve their emotional well-being and quality of life.
CBT is an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By helping people to identify and challenge negative thought patterns, CBT can help them to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors and to improve their overall quality of life.
CBT is a structured and goal-oriented approach to therapy, with a focus on teaching specific skills and techniques that can be used to manage negative emotions and behaviors. It is typically a short-term therapy, with most sessions lasting between 12 and 20 weeks. CBT sessions are most commonly scheduled once per week.
2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It has since been found to be helpful for other mental health conditions such as substance use disorder, depression, and eating disorders.
DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness-based practices to help individuals develop skills for regulating their emotions, managing stress, and improving their relationships with others. The therapy is based on the dialectical principle that two seemingly contradictory ideas can be true at the same time and that by acknowledging and accepting this dialectic, individuals can move towards a more balanced and healthy way of being.
DBT is typically conducted in a group setting, with individual therapy sessions offered as needed. The therapy is structured and involves a series of skills training modules, including mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.
As a result, DBT usually involves both individual and group therapy sessions several times per week.
3. Psychoanalytic Therapy
Psychoanalytic therapy, also known as psychodynamic therapy, is a form of therapy that is based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. It is a long-term, insight-oriented therapy that aims to help individuals understand the underlying causes of their emotional and behavioral difficulties.
One of the key principles of psychoanalytic therapy is the idea that early childhood experiences and relationships with caregivers can significantly impact an individual’s emotional development and mental health. The therapist works with the individual to explore these early experiences and how they may impact their current feelings and behaviors.
Psychoanalytic therapy is typically a long-term therapy, with sessions occurring on a weekly basis for several years. In certain instances, sessions might be held twice or three times a week if an individual has a lot of trauma or challenges to work through.
Benefits of going to therapy more or less frequently
There are benefits to going to therapy more or less frequently, depending on your individual needs.
benefits of more frequent therapy sessions
- Accountability: More frequent sessions can keep you accountable for your progress and encourage you to stay motivated in your therapy. More frequent sessions will allow you to regularly check in with your therapist and help you stay consistent with progress and goals. For example, suppose you are working on changing a particular behavior. In that case, more frequent sessions will allow you to reflect on your progress weekly. If challenges arise, your therapist will be able to share with you different tools or techniques to help you.
- Greater support: More frequent sessions with your therapist can provide greater emotional support and guidance when you are dealing with intense or challenging issues. Especially if this is your first time working with a therapist, greater support might be beneficial, as you might be navigating through many new and (perhaps) previously unfelt emotions.
- More rapid progress: If you are dealing with severe mental health issues and disorders or are in crisis, you may need more frequent therapy sessions to achieve faster progress in your recovery.
Benefits of less frequent therapy sessions
- More time for reflection and integration: With less frequent therapy sessions, such as once every 2 weeks or going to therapy once a month, you will have more time between sessions to reflect and integrate. Reflection on what you are working on is crucial if you are seeking long-term improvement. Additionally, it takes time to integrate these new insights and skills into your daily life. Therefore, less frequent sessions allow for these integrations to take place.
- Greater autonomy: less frequent sessions can encourage you to take more responsibility for your progress and rely less on your therapist for guidance. Having less frequent sessions and greater autonomy for your progress is common after working with a therapist for some time. This is also a great way to “test” all that you have learned and see how you can navigate life and yourself without the regular “safety net” of your therapist.
- Reduced cost: at the end of the day, your financial situation is also essential for therapy. Less frequent sessions can be more cost-effective and may make therapy more accessible for those who cannot afford it or whose insurance only covers a certain number of sessions.
how do you create your therapy schedule?
The type of therapy you choose, your financial situation, the severity of your mental health concerns, and your personal goals will all affect your therapy schedule and frequency.
As you begin working with a therapist, be transparent and honest about your situation. If you have the freedom to go to as many sessions as needed – great! If you do not, due to your financial situation or busy schedule – mention it to your (potential) therapist and discuss it together.
Being upfront about all the factors listed earlier will set you up for success. If you have a limited amount of sessions with a therapist due to your budget or insurance limitations, mention it to your therapist. They can structure your sessions to fit your needs, goals and timeline.
As time goes on, you will see that, naturally, the frequency of your sessions might change. In the beginning, you might have more frequent, one or twice-weekly sessions because this is a new experience and more support is needed.
Over time, as you begin to integrate the new techniques and tools that you learn and feel more comfortable with greater autonomy, you might feel comfortable (and ready) to reduce the frequency of your sessions.
My personal experience
When I started therapy for the first time, I would see my therapist 1-2 a week. Doing deep inner work and healing was new for me, and I hadn’t realized how much trauma and deep feelings I had suppressed. Thus, therapy right from the start opened up the floodgates.
I was overwhelmed by all the new insights that were popping up. I had a challenging time dealing with all the suppressed feelings I hadn’t felt for years, and I felt like I needed somebody to hold my hand tight through it all. Otherwise, I felt like I couldn’t handle it all by myself.
At certain times between my therapy sessions, I would also text my therapist when I was struggling. She would remind me what tool/technique I could use to soothe myself and offer encouragement.
As time went on and I got better at managing my emotions, dealing with my triggers, and seeing changes in my behavior, I naturally felt ready to lower the frequency of my sessions.
After 1.5 years of working with a therapist, I reduced my sessions from once a week to once every two weeks.
Then, after 2 years, my therapy sessions became once-a-month and felt more like check-ins with my therapist to see if I’m on track, talk about my integrations, and any new questions or challenges that have popped up.
I could not have imagined only having once-a-month sessions when I started therapy. I felt so emotionally sensitive and unstable that I wasn’t sure if I could ever feel differently.
Yet… after more than 2 years of regular therapy, here I am. I have learned how to process and regulate my emotions, how to resolve conflict and set boundaries, and I have worked on changing my behavior.
It might happen that a new and heavy challenge will pop up at some point in the future, and I will need to increase the frequency of my sessions. That’s okay!
Remember that in your healing journey, things will change. More sessions, fewer sessions. Hills and valleys.
Therapy is an important step in improving your mental health and overall well-being. I think that every human being should go to therapy at least for a few months. Everyone could benefit from deepening their relationship with themselves.
By considering factors like the severity of your mental health issues, personal goals for therapy, and the type of therapy being received, you can find the right frequency for your needs.
Remember to always stay open and communicative with your therapist to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your sessions. You got this!
If you’re embarking on a healing journey and are looking for an excellent book to read, check out How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera. You might also find this article about the Dark Night of the Soul interesting as well!