Even if you’ve been doing therapy for years, you’d still have plenty of unanswered questions about it. Even therapists themselves are constantly learning about the practice as they go about it. In fact, if you’re keen to read more about what therapy is like from the therapists’ perspective, I highly recommend Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by therapist and author Lori Gottlieb.
For this reason, I thought it worthwhile asking a therapist — Veronica West at digital mental health platform Lysn — some of the most FAQs about therapy here.
From how to know if you need therapy, to how long it takes to kick in and how you’ll know it’s working, here’s what West said.
How Do I Know If I Should See a Therapist?
“There are many reasons you might choose to see a therapist, ranging from getting help with managing mental health concerns, through relationship issues, all the way to self-improvement and personal development.
“There are however a few key signs to look out for which might tell you that it is time to seek professional help. These include:
– When changes to your mood or a decline in day-to-day functioning continue for a prolonged period or significantly restricts you from being able to engage in work, social, family or self-care activities.
– When you notice a change in your ability to regulate your emotions (e.g., your emotion or behavioural response seems out of proportion to the stressful experience or trigger that sets off the reaction).
– When you start to turn to unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress or mental health concerns (for example increased alcohol intake, substance use, or avoidance).”
How Often Will I Have to Do Therapy?
“How often you should see a therapist is a very individual question and depends very much on what you are seeking support for and the acuteness of your symptoms.
“Most clients benefit from initially engaging with their therapist weekly or fortnightly. This will allow you and your therapist time to get to know each other, get a comprehensive history of your concerns, set goals, and get some key strategies and skills in place to help you manage and address your concerns.”
How Long Does Therapy Take to Work?
“This is again quite a tricky question to answer as it is very dependent on your needs and what you are seeking support for. In saying this, I would say that it is reasonable to expect that you will need at least around 8 to 10 sessions when seeing a therapist for clinical concerns such as mild to moderate anxiety or depression.
“However, depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may benefit from a lot more long-term engagement than this.
“I would always recommend making sure that you talk to your therapist about your specific treatment plan and what they see as a reasonable timeframe to address your concerns as this may vary greatly from the above recommendations depending on your needs.”
How Will I Know If I’m Getting Better?
“This of course depends on what you have sought therapy for. For example, success in therapy when addressing relationship concerns of course looks different from success in treating anxiety.
“However, a few key markers that can be a helpful guide for us as therapists as well as for yourself when undergoing treatment include a clear decrease in symptoms, positive changes in mood, decreased or no further engagement in negative coping strategies, and positive changes to your behaviours (eg, increased engagement in self-care, better routines, increased attention to hygiene and relationships).
“To help you understand if treatment is working for you and you are improving, it is also important to come back to the goals of treatment that would have been agreed upon at the start of your engagement with your therapist. If you are meeting these goals, that is certainly a very good indication that you are getting better, and that the treatment is working.”
When Will I Be Done With Therapy?
“There is no definite end to engaging in therapy. I would, however, say that when you start to see a lessening in your symptoms and an improvement to the point where you feel confident and comfortable to independently manage any symptoms or concerns that may come up using strategies and skills implemented in therapy, it is reasonable to start looking at wrapping up the active therapeutic process.
“Some individuals find that once they get past the active treatment phase of therapy, they still like to continue to see their therapist at less frequent intervals for ‘touch up’ or ‘check in’ sessions, however, this is certainly not required or always needed.
“Finally, I would like to add that the goal of treatment is always to get you to a place where you have the tools and skills to manage independently. The day you no longer feel a need to see your therapist is certainly a good day not only for you, but also for us as treating professionals.”