How Do I Know When Therapy Is Done?

As I was checking out the redesigned Anxiety & Depression Association of America’s website (which is really great), I ran across an article called How to Know When to Seek Therapy by Lynn Siqueland, PhD

Very timely and always a good topic. It got me thinking about a question I get a lot:

How do I know when therapy is done?

I think it’s important to point out that therapy shouldn’t necessarily go on forever, at least not in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is what I practice in treating anxiety disorders. Our purpose is to interrupt patterns of thinking and behaving that no longer serve us.

We want to see improvements!

Going back to Dr. Siqueland’s article, she recommends people seek therapy for anxiety when “the feeling of nervousness, worry or sadness continues, happens a lot, or is very intense …”

Once in therapy, we look for improvements in how you’re functioning and in distress levels. When you start seeing a therapist, I recommend asking them (in your initial session) how they determine these kinds of improvements. It’s also ok to ask them to give you a ballpark estimate of how long it will take, understanding that really, they won’t know until they’ve worked with you a bit. There are just so many factors which determine how fast someone’s able to progress.

It’s also fair to ask what factors may make it slower or faster. For the people I treat, in general, those who do the bare minimum of practice between sessions, don’t do anything supplemental toward their recovery (reading, listening to podcasts, joining recovery communities, looking for additional opportunities to practice) are probably going to need more sessions than someone who is spending more time on their recovery.

Now before you say, “I don’t have that kind of time,” think about how much time you’re spending worrying about and engaging in behaviors to try not to worry. Probably more.

If you’re in CBT, or an offshoot of CBT like exposure and response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, treatment isn’t supposed to last forever and, by forever, I mean north of 6 months at a time.

Another question I hear often is, “what do I do if I think therapy isn’t working?” I’ll tackle that one next month. Until then, if you live in Ohio and want to connect, reach out. If you’re out of state, check out the IOCDF or ADAA websites for providers in your area.