“Your time is up”: why the session with the therapist is so short


People who decide to seek therapy for the first time are often discouraged by how long one session lasts. And really – what can you do in less than an hour? How is it that the “therapy hour” is so short?

“There are several theories, and some even refer us to Freud,” explains psychologist and family specialist Becky Steumfig. “There is no consensus on this, but the fact remains: 45-50 minutes is the standard time the therapist spends with the client.” There are a number of reasons for this, both practical and psychological.


This is really more convenient from the point of view of logistics, and for everyone: both for a client who can make an appointment with a specialist both before work and immediately after (and some even at lunchtime), and for a therapist who needs 10 Take 15 minute breaks between sessions to take notes of the session just ended, call back those who called during the session, answer messages, and finally just drink water and rest.

“The session can be psychologically very difficult for the specialist himself, and a break is the only way to exhale and recover,” explains therapist Tammer Malati. “This is the only chance to reboot,” move away “from the previous client and mentally tune in to meet with the next,” agrees Steumfig.

Some therapists even shorten sessions to 45 minutes or schedule half-hour breaks between patients.

Content of meetings

The shorter the session, the more meaningful and “to the point” the conversation turns out. Realizing that he has less than an hour at his disposal, the client, as a rule, does not go into long explanations. In addition, he does not have to return to the painful experience he has experienced for a long time. “Otherwise, clients would be re-traumatized and unlikely to come to the next meeting.”

“An hour or more alone with your emotions, mostly negative, is too much for most. After that, it is difficult for them to return to their daily activities and even more so to work, ”explains psychotherapist Brittany Bufar.

This duration contributes to the formation of boundaries between therapist and client. Steumfig notes that a 45- or 50-minute session will allow the specialist to remain objective, unbiased, without going too deep into the client’s problems and not taking them to heart.

Effective use of time

In short meetings, both sides try to make the most of the time at their disposal. “So both the client and the therapist get to the heart of the problem faster. Any small talk will be a waste of time, which is known to be expensive, ”explains Steumfig.

If the client understands that his problem is global and it is unlikely that it will be possible to resolve it in a session, this motivates him, together with the therapist, to seek local practical solutions, techniques that can be “carried away” and used until the next session.

“The more time we have, the longer we usually get to the heart of the problem,” says Laurie Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. In addition, at the end of a longer session, both the client and therapist may experience fatigue or even burnout. The format of half-hour sessions is generally suitable for children: focusing even 45-50 minutes is too difficult for most of them.

Assimilation of information

Family therapist Sania Mayo compares therapy sessions to lessons in high school. During the lesson, the student receives a certain amount of information about a particular subject. You still need to digest this information and remember the main points in order to be able to do your homework.

“You can stretch the session for four hours – the only question is what will the client take and remember from it,” explains Mayo. “It is difficult to“ digest ”too much information, which means it is difficult to extract any practical benefit from it”. Therefore, when clients say that one session per week is not enough for them, the therapist usually suggests increasing the frequency of meetings rather than the duration of each one.

“I think the effect of two short sessions will be greater than one long one. It’s like having two small meals at different times instead of one hearty meal, ”Gottlieb comments. – Too plentiful lunch will not digest normally: the body needs time, breaks between “meals”.

Application of the acquired knowledge

In therapy, it is important not only what we learned during the session, with what insights we left it, but also what we did in between meetings with the therapist, how we applied the knowledge and skills we gained.

“It’s important, not the length of the sessions,” Stumfig said. – The client should work not only at meetings with the therapist, but also between them: to reflect, track his behavior, try to apply new psychological skills that the specialist taught him. It takes time for the information received to be assimilated and for positive changes to begin. “


Although a 45-50 minute appointment is considered the standard, every psychotherapist is free to determine the length of the meeting. What’s more: working with couples and families usually takes at least an hour and a half. “Everyone should have time to speak up and reflect on what they hear,” explains family therapist Nicole Ward. An individual appointment can also take longer, especially if the client is in a state of acute crisis.

Some therapists also set aside more time for the first meeting to gather as much information as possible, correctly identify the problem, and help the patient formulate a request.

In any case, if you feel that, despite the above reasons, you need more time, do not hesitate to talk about it to a specialist. Together, you will surely find an option that will suit both.

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