Most counselors and therapists offer a standard session length to everyone. Typically, it’s either 45 minutes or 50 minutes. For some people that’s a perfect length of time.
So just how long do you need for a session? I say- that depends.
In 11 years of private practice, I have found that certain lengths of time work best for certain types of situations. Here’s my guide to what the best session lengths are for certain situations.
15 Minute Sessions
The first thing you need to know- I don’t offer 15 minute session in-person in my office. I talk too much for that to ever work! Plus, if someone runs over their appointment time, it would be way too stressful for everyone (I don’t know how physicians do it- I am in awe).
I offer pre-scheduled 15 minute sessions by phone or online through my client portal. These session lengths work well for:
- Busy professionals who need a quick check-in to keep their emotions on track on a hectic day
- Frequent check-ins during anniversary times that bring on constant waves of sadness
- Seeing how a strategy is working between sessions, so you can make tweaks before the next in-office meeting
- Getting clarification on how to handle a tense conversation with your spouse (especially when it can’t wait until the next appointment)
- Helping parents process through their child’s behavior to make sure they reacting to the right angle of the situation
A quick 15 minute phone session can keep anxiety and depression from spiraling, big arugments from happening, and parents from becoming discouraged and frustrated.
30 Minute Sessions
I have heard other therapists say that they couldn’t get anything done during a 30 minute session. But I say otherwise! These babies pack a punch and have a multitude of uses! They are perfect in the office, over the phone, or online for:
- Seeing children! They have short attention spans and it helps them to focus and feel good about what they do in session.
- Check-up sessions to keep you on an upward trajectory with your goals. They are especially helpful when you are starting to move away from meeting weekly or every other week, but maybe you’re nervous about “what if” something happens before your next session? Then…book a 30 minute session in between the longer sessions as a safeguard.
- Focusing on a specific issue. This is especially good if you’re doing great in life, but you need to process through this random situation that pops up.
- College students who are trying to fit in therapy sessions between group projects, club meetings, studying, work, and hanging out with friends.
I will say that 30 minute sessions work best for individuals. Couples should not schedule a 30 minute session unless they are in the final stages of therapy, or unless they are in agreement to focus on one specific topic.
45 Minute Sessions
This is the length of time that most people are familiar with in terms of therapy, whether it’s a traditional 45 minute session, or the “50 minute hour” that many therapist provide.
While anyone can benefit from a 45 minute session, I’ve found they are best for:
- Family sessions with a parent and a child.
- Parents who want to come in either at the beginning or the end of their child’s session.
- A parent who wants to come in towards the end of their child’s session to check-in and know what the focus is on for the next week.
- Session #2 and #3 for couples. For a first session, I see the couple together. But then I see each of them individually before we come back together again. This lets me get to know each of them individually.
- Individual clients after we have been working together for a while and you have begun to see progress and change. (At the next stage, we can shorten down to a 30 minute session.)
60 Minute Sessions
This is the length I do the most in my practice, as most people find it allows them to go in-deep and to cover more ground in fewer sessions. It also means they are able to make a “full circle” during our time together, with the deepest work in the middle of our session, allowing us time to process and pull things back together so no one has to leave in tears.
These sessions are my favorite for:
- First sessions with couples. This allows me to get a great background on your relationship without rushing or making one person feel unheard.
- In-depth work at the beginning of our time together. We can move faster at the beginning when I have enough to get background info, build a relationship so I know the things that help you succeed, and then time to process through some new strategies to try.
- Handling a crisis situation. There are lots of details to share, and I don’t want to run out of time and make you feel like I don’t care about the rest of the story.
- Updating me when it’s been more than 6 months since our last session.
- Sessions where you are bringing a guest for that session. Those appointments always go by quickly and we run out of time.
Interestingly, 60 minute sessions aren’t good for every situation. If you are a person of few words, or if you are nervous about coming, please don’t torture yourself! I’m not here to add more anxiety to your life at all.
Hour long sessions also don’t work well for phone or video sessions. For some reason, I have found that sessions move faster when they take place out of the office.
If you still aren’t sure how long of a session you need, if it’s just you coming, then try a 45 minute session. That’s right in the middle, and it will let you see how much we are able to process during that time.
If anyone else is coming with you, it’s always best to opt for 60 minutes.
And if the only thing open is a 30 minute session, and you just want to get started, grab it and we’ll squeeze in as much as we can!