How Long Does It Take for Therapy to Work?

Here's when you may begin seeing positive change.

Young woman focuses on female counselor's advice

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Going to therapy is one of the most important decisions you can make for yourself. Your sessions allow you to explore who you are, better understand your habits and coping techniques, unpack past events and traumas, and create new pathways of behavior.

“Attending therapy is a clear sign that you’re committed to leading your life with a healthier and happier mindset,” says Nina Westbrook, LMFT. “The process can bring out so many different emotions and feelings; sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you might cry, other times you’ll feel content or even exhausted.”

Ahead, we’re discussing what you can expect in terms of how long it takes therapy to start working and outlining some signs that you’re already seeing the benefits.

When Does Therapy Start Working? 

Whether you’re considering therapy or have attended several sessions or months with, you may wonder how long it takes for therapy to start working. The answer isn’t straightforward since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all timeline. However, you can begin seeing the positive effects of therapy from your very first session.

“You might feel a huge sense of relief because you’ve connected with someone who hears, sees, and understands you. You may immediately begin to feel more hopeful and less alone,” notes Westbrook. 

It takes incredible courage to normalize the resistance, so if you are feeling this way, lean into it and share with your therapist so they can put it into context.


For others, though, it can take more time to experience the positive impacts of therapy. The first few sessions can be overwhelming since you’re opening up to someone new and talking about things that may not be easy. You may even feel slightly worse afterward, particularly if you’re uncovering painful experiences.

“It’s human nature to resist change because it’s hard and profoundly uncomfortable, but a therapist can help guide you through to accomplish your goals,” says Merlelynn Harris, MS, MFT. “It takes incredible courage to normalize the resistance, so if you are feeling this way, lean into it and share with your therapist so they can put it into context.”

Once you’re able to work past that discomfort and settle into your therapy session, you should begin seeing small benefits and eventually bigger changes in your day-to-day life, relationships, and mental well-being.

There may be scenarios when your therapist isn’t an ideal fit. This is completely normal, and therapists also understand that not every patient is going to be a fit. If you’ve attended three to five sessions and still feel that way, seek a different mental health provider.

How Long Should I Stay in Therapy?

There’s no straightforward answer regarding how long you should stay in therapy. Generally, you and your therapist will discuss goals during the first session and you can work together to establish a timeline for how long it might make sense to see each other, which might be as little as a few months or sometimes a year or longer.

“It’s important to keep in mind that, in most cases, therapy is not meant to be forever,” says Westbrook. “It should be used to help you develop the tools, skills, and techniques you need to regulate yourself effectively, cope in healthy manners, and independently manage your feelings around life’s ups and downs.”

She adds that a successful therapeutic experience teaches you how to become an expert in your own wellbeing. This allows you to navigate daily life on your own versus relying solely on professional support. A good therapist knows when their job is done.

7 Signs Therapy is Working 

Ultimately, the goal of therapy is symptom reduction or to feel better equipped with more tools in your emotional or relational tool belt, says Harris. Here are some signs you’re seeing progress: 

  • You feel lighter
  • You’re happier
  • You’re less reactionary and more thoughtful
  • You can recognize problematic behavior in yourself
  • You can more quickly self-correct in a spiral
  • Others say they’ve seen a change in you
  • You’ve met goals outlined at the beginning of your therapy

A Word From Verywell 

You can begin seeing subtle signs of therapy working as quickly as your first session. Often, though, it can take at least a few sessions to reap the rewards. Some find that they only need a few months of therapy while others prefer to make therapy an ongoing practice. Whatever the case, remain proud of the fact that you made a deliberate commitment to your personal growth.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.