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The Million Dollar Question: How long will we be in therapy?

A calendar, pen, and clip
Fitting counseling into your calendar can be challenging.

You are busy. You are in distress. You need things to change, like, yesterday. So how long will we be in therapy? It's often the first question we get asked -- we get it. The outcome from this process is important and you need relief. And, at the same time, it's a simple question with a complicated answer: It depends.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the Gold Standard in counseling with research supported methods, measurable outcomes, and sustained improvements. It's also considered a brief form of psychotherapy. However, that designation can be misleading to couples, because the studies that supported that outcome were heavily controlled, in an attempt to rule-out confounding variables. That means that couples with complicated histories, concerns, and challenges were not included in the study. This is a best practice in research studies, but doesn't usually translate to the lives of people who are seeking marriage counseling.

So, what factors impact the number of sessions it takes to complete a course of EFT?

  1. Issue Complexity: The complexity and severity of the issues being addressed significantly affect the duration of couples therapy. Couples dealing with deep-rooted problems, such as infidelity, unresolved trauma, or communication breakdowns, may require a longer duration of therapy to work through these challenges and establish healthier patterns. Highly complex issues often necessitate more time for couples to heal, rebuild trust, and develop effective coping strategies.

  2. Willingness to Engage and Invest: The commitment and active engagement of both partners play a crucial role in determining the length of therapy. Couples who are motivated, dedicated, and open to the therapeutic process are more likely to experience progress at a faster pace. Willingness to invest time, effort, and emotional energy in therapy sessions, can expedite the healing process.

  3. Emotion Regulation Skills: The effectiveness of each partner's emotion regulation skills can influence the duration of therapy. If one (or both) people struggles with expressing their emotions, staying present, and/or becoming emotionally flooded, the therapist will need to slow down treatment to accommodate the acquisition of those skills.

  4. External Support Systems: The presence of external support systems, such as an individual therapist, close friends, family, or a supportive community, can influence the duration of couples therapy. A couple with a strong support network may find it easier to implement changes and cope with challenges outside of therapy sessions. Conversely, couples with limited or strained support systems may require additional time in therapy to address underlying issues and establish a more robust support network.

  5. Individual Factors: Each individual brings their own history, personality traits, and personal history into a relationship, which can impact the duration of couples therapy. Past experiences, such as childhood trauma or previous failed relationships, can affect how individuals respond to therapy and their willingness to confront deep-seated issues. Addressing individual factors alongside the couple’s dynamics may require additional time.

  6. External Stressors: Couples who are actively experiencing external stressors, like parents who are ill, financial challenges, or a significant medical diagnosis often require a slower therapeutic process, as their internal resources can become depleted.

  7. Therapist Training and Skill: When a therapist has little experience or training in couple therapy (or any other speciality), the process will go slowly. Or it might not go at all! The therapist’s expertise in guiding couples through the therapy can contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the therapy process. Sadly, this can cost you valuable time and financial resources. Our therapists all have advanced training in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, Individuals, and Families. Beyond our required degrees and experience, we've spent hundreds of hours in training learning nuanced ways to help you in times of distress. We also have thousands of hours of experience helping people just like you. Just like your primary care physician (PCP), most therapists have a little knowledge about many concerns. Unlike your PCP, many therapists aren't trained to refer out to more specialized care when needed. Would you only go to your PCP if you thought you had a spinal cord injury? Or would you expect to see a specialist who helps folks with spinal cord injury all the time?

Couples therapy offers an opportunity for couples to improve their relationship, address challenges, and foster a healthier and more fulfilling connection. While the duration of therapy can vary based on numerous factors, it is important for couples to approach therapy with a commitment to the process and a willingness to invest the necessary time and effort. By understanding these factors and working collaboratively with a skilled therapist, couples can navigate their journey toward lasting positive change and a stronger bond.

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