Why does therapy take so longTo those unfamiliar with the therapeutic process, the concept of therapy can appear mystifying. In the earlier therapy sessions, I am often asked “how long will this last?” or “when will I begin to see progress?”. It is difficult to estimate therapeutic progress so soon. Only time will tell what the patient uncovers. How a person approaches a therapy session can also determine the length of the healing work. Being open, curious, and patient with oneself can help uncover deeper issues that need to be addressed. As a supervisor explained to me, “The more you put into the work, the more you get out of it.”  Someone looking for quick relief rather than unpacking their traumas and feelings, will find the therapeutic process frustrating and ineffective.

Can I just take medication instead?

How much a patient gets out of therapy depends on how much they put into it. It can be painful to address difficult topics, sit with discomfort, and address feelings with a stranger. People naturally want to push down their negative emotions, and some prefer to take psychotropic medications to relieve their symptoms. Medication can work to relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety but does not address the chaotic childhood or unresolved traumas that might be causing such conditions. Evidence suggests that the best course of action is for a patient to take medication concurrently with therapy. The medication alleviates the symptoms and therapy allows for the patient to uncover what is underneath.

Beginning stages of therapy

Why does therapy take so long? It has taken a lifetime for a patient to settle into maladaptive thinking and behavioral patterns so it will take a long time to unpack it. The initial stages of therapy involve building trust between patient and therapist and developing healthy coping skills. This is done to ensure the patient will feel prepared and safe enough to address the trauma or more sensitive topics. Uncovering these thoughts and feelings can be a frightening and daunting process so it is crucial that the patient feels comfortable with the therapist and the therapeutic environment. If the patient and therapist cannot establish rapport, there will be resistance.


Patients enter therapy for a variety of reasons. These can include struggling with a breakup, or a loss,  facing a major life transition and experiencing significant trauma. The initial stages of therapy involve building rapport with your therapist, processing the stressor that brought you to therapy, and exploring healthier coping skills. Once you address the major stressors, the deeper work begins. This, depending on the orientation of the therapist, may entail tracking a patient’s early attachment to caregivers, exploring relationship history, processing trauma, and setting realistic life goals.

Understanding the Process

Therapy sometimes takes longer than new patients anticipate and this can be frustrating when you are eager to feel better. Of course, therapists want to help their clients feel better and alleviate their pain quickly, but by its nature the work takes time. Trying to accelerate any healing process sacrifices treatment quality and effectiveness. Therapy is a personal investment. The more time you invest in working on yourself, the more you get out of it. Be compassionate with yourself because it takes time to heal.

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