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.
But I’m not most therapists.
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.
So just how long do you need for a session? I say- that depends on a few things:
Laser Focused: 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 adolescents! They have short attention spans and it helps them to focus and feel good about what they do in session.
- College students who are trying to fit in therapy sessions between group projects, club meetings, studying, work, and hanging out with friends.
- Check-in sessions for individuals to stay on an upward trajectory with towards 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 a random situation that pops up.
- Maintaining where you’re at right now. These work best every 2-4 weeks when we’re in this phase of our work together. Often, we know we’ve made improvements, and we feel so much better, but we’re testing the waters to see if there are any areas we need to make stronger, or anything we may have not realized.
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.
Interactive: 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 therapists 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 to check-in and know what the focus is on for the next week.
- The individual assessment sessions I do with couples in Session #2 and #3. For a first session, I see the couple together. But then I see each of them individually before we come back together again for Session #4. This lets me get to know each of them individually and to assess where each one is at in life and the relationship.
- Couple sessions can be done in 45 minutes, and that length works well for many couples.
- Individual clients also benefit from 45 minute sessions. After we have been working together for a while, and you have begun to see progress and change, we can shorten down to a 30 minute session.
In-Depth: 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.
- Individual, couple, and family sessions can all be done as 60 minute sessions.
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.
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!