Ah yes, the dreaded question I get asked at the end of every intake session. The truth is it’s not up to me. I have a basic guideline of what I recommend below, but it’s important to remember that a.) everyone’s needs are different, b.) different people respond differently to therapy, and c.) there can be barriers to meeting this guideline (finances, time constraints, etc.). The most important thing to remember about seeking mental health treatment is that you know yourself better than any clinician ever could. Always feel comfortable advocating for what you want and need.
So, what’s my guideline? It has been my experience that many people come to therapy as a last resort. I hear the “I thought about it for a long time and just finally made the call” or “I just couldn’t take it anymore”. Rarely do I hear, “oh you know, life is good, I just wanted to see what I could work on to make it even better”. For that reason, one of my first objectives as a clinician with a new client is stabilization. Let’s help you get out of bed in the morning, eat regularly, get back into a routine, and start to feel like yourself again. All things considered, if a client is willing to put in some effort, stabilization can be relatively quick. I usually encouraged a client coming to me in some sort of crisis or instability to see me on a weekly basis until we achieve the above goals (generally 6-12 weeks). This also is important to the process of building rapport in the counseling relationship. There is research to suggest that up to 80% of therapy outcomes can be directly influenced by the relationship between counselor and client. It is so important that you like, trust, and respect your counselor that I often encourage people to set up intake appointments or phone consultations with 2-3 different therapists to see who they connect with most. In nearly every new client appointment I offer the following, “stick with me for 3 sessions and if you don’t connect with me by session 3, I’ll help you find someone you like more”.
After 6-12 weeks what’s next? Some clients elect to remain on a weekly schedule for several reasons, perhaps it helps to have a place to release the week’s challenges, maybe the added accountability of weekly check-ins proves beneficial, etc. Other clients may find that every other week sessions fit better with their financial or time resources, or they just might like that schedule better. I do focus on tapering down the frequency of sessions at some point in order to prevent clients from becoming dependent on therapy. My goal is always to work myself out of a job, so clients feel free enough and ready to face the world and its challenges with their new resiliency and skills we’ve developed.
My goal is to help clients get what they need, whatever that looks like. Any counselor worth their salt is going to be open to discussing your individual needs and providing recommendations, so please feel free to ask. As always, I’m here to help if you or a loved one is struggling.