NYC Therapist Talks: In Therapy Forever? Enough Already
"A 2001 study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that patients improved most dramatically between their seventh and tenth sessions. Another study, published in 2006 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, looked at nearly 2,000 people who underwent counseling for 1 to 12 sessions and found that while 88 percent improved after one session, the rate fell to 62 percent after 12. Yet, according to research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, therapists who practice more traditional psychotherapy treat patients for an average of 22 sessions before concluding that progress isn’t being made. Just 12 percent of those therapists choose to refer their stagnant patients to another practitioner. The bottom line: Even though extended therapy is not always beneficial, many therapists persist in leading patients on an open-ended, potentially endless, therapeutic course.
Proponents of long-term therapy have argued that severe psychological disorders require years to manage. That may be true, but it’s also true that many therapy patients don’t suffer severe disorders. Anxiety and depression are the top predicaments for which patients seek mental health treatment; schizophrenia is at the bottom of the list.
In my experience, most people seek therapeutic help for discrete, treatable issues: they are stuck in unfulfilling jobs or relationships, they can’t reach their goals, are fearful of change and depressed as a result. It doesn’t take years of therapy to get to the bottom of those kinds of problems. For some of my patients, it doesn’t even take a whole session.
Therapy can — and should — focus on goals and outcomes, and people should be able to graduate from it. In my practice, the people who spent years in therapy before coming to me were able to face their fears, calm their anxieties and reach life goals quickly — often within weeks." (Read Article)
There are so many misconceptions about therapy. One of the big ones is that we just nod and ask you about your dreams, take your money, and schedule you for three sessions per week for twenty years. Modern therapy is effective, and results oriented, and has little to do with psychoanalysis of old, guessing at the "root" of your deep, unconscious desires. Effective therapists will design a treatment plan with you towards the beginning of your work together. This plan outlines long-term goals and measurable objectives that you will accomplish during the course of your therapy. In each session, the therapist keeps progress notes to do just that, measure your progress and make sure you're working towards whatever you set out to accomplish when you made the decision to come to therapy.
Many well-meaning therapists (and some not so well-meaning), are happy to let you/help you wallow in your feelings, establishing a sense of dependency, as if you needed said therapist in order to feel and make your way in the world. Big news- therapists are just people. We have problems just like everyone else, and are by no means perfect. Some therapists are in the field because of their own need to be needed, which makes for maintaining a long-term arrangement that is, frankly, doing more harm than good.
Modern, effective therapists want to get you depending on yourself, not on the therapist. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is action-oriented, helping you identify what isn't working for you and teach you how to do more of what is, bringing you closer to your goals in life, whether these goals are related to family, love, career, sex, etc. The therapist acts as educator, helping you learn a language. You may begin with one therapist, and continue with someone else, but as you become more fluent in the language, you are able to do with it what you will. And you're not going to become fluent in living your life if you spend all of it lying on a couch with a psychoanalyst!
Lastly, modern therapy is also not about rushing you. There is no rush. We want to help get you back on your feet, however long that may take, but making sure we are doing effective work, and not just putting a the proverbial band-aid on things until the next session. There are styles of therapy (brief solution-focused therapy), that limit your sessions to 6 or less, which can then start to feel like a "one-size-fits-all" kind of therapy.
So don't be afraid to set some solid goals with your therapist. Ask them about your treatment plan. Ask how they measure your progress. It's not so much about "cures" when it comes to most life issues, but any therapist worth their salt can definitely give you tangible results that don't take a lifetime to achieve.