Your First Therapy Session: How Long Does It Last?

Some people may be hesitant to admit they need therapy and counseling sessions, but at times, it may be the only option that can help you get better – and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the United States alone, around 46 percent of adults will experience a mental illness at least once in their life. However, this statistic may not be entirely accurate since some people can hide their illness and remain undiagnosed.

If it’s your first time to visit a psychiatrist or are considering therapy, it’s OK to be nervous. Wondering things like how long a therapy session is or how you start a conversation to explain what you think is wrong are valid concerns. After all, the point of attending therapy is to try and treat your mental condition and prevent it from spiraling out of control and affecting the way you live. Here’s what you need to know about your first trip to your psychiatrist.

Where Can I Find a Psychiatrist?

A quick Google search can help you find a psychiatrist in your area. Some clinics may not have psychiatrists practicing, but bigger hospitals will often have an entire department dedicated to psychiatry. Give them a call and ask if you can set an appointment with a psychiatrist during your available free time.

Another option is to get a referral from someone you know. If you know a friend who is seeing a psychiatrist, you can ask them to refer you, especially if you see that they are positively improving from their therapy. Your psychiatrist will not disclose your sessions to your friend, nor will they disclose your friend’s sessions to you, so your therapy sessions can still remain private.

How Much Does Therapy Cost?

Depending on many factors like location, therapy duration, specialization, insurance coverage, and the therapist’s training, skill, and reputation, the cost of therapy varies. Most therapists charge by the hour or half-hour; at best, it can cost you $65 an hour, but some psychiatrists can charge upwards of $250. Expect that your initial consultation will be the most expensive session, as your therapist may take more time diagnosing your condition and what kind of treatment you may need.

Therapists that are trained in specialized fields of psychiatry, have years of experience, practice in areas with high costs of living, are well-known for their practice, and can treat more challenging mental conditions are likely to charge more.

Therapy with Insurance

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans have to include mental health care. However, given the rates of most therapists and basic coverage provided by insurance companies, expect a co-pay plan where your insurance plan pays for a percentage of the bill, while you pay for the rest. Some health insurance companies may also require you to seek therapy with a psychiatrist within their network or getting a referral from a general practitioner before seeking therapy.

Other Ways to Seek Therapy

If you’re uninsured or you can’t meet your insurance’s mental health care package criteria, then there may still be ways to receive therapy without paying too much out of pocket. Your employer may offer employee assistance, programs, and other steps to provide you with therapy. Some companies even opt to have an in-house therapist ready.

Students in elementary and high school can seek counseling sessions with their guidance counselors. Schools in the United States are required to have at least one counselor on staff. Universities with programs for people training to become therapists may offer free therapy programs as part of their students’ training. This may be offered to both students and non-students, so you might want to consider calling local universities with psychology departments. However, with the cost of free or low-cost mental health care, expect that your therapists may not have a lot of experience in their field.

How Long Do Therapy Sessions Last?

A therapy session is often an hour or less since most therapists charge by the hour. However, that entire hour will not be used by the patient, so expect therapy to last around 45 to 55 minutes (this is referred to as the typical “therapy hour”), depending on the situation. If you’re paying with insurance, some therapists may limit it to 45 minutes as this is the insurance industry practice of reimbursing 45-minute procedures.

Around 5 to 10 minutes of your session will be spent checking in and filling in questionnaires. Your therapist may also use the additional 15 minutes to write notes on your case or prepare for their next session. You can ask to extend therapy sessions, but that’s assuming your therapist doesn’t have another appointment after yours and you’re willing to pay additional hours.

Some therapy sessions may also be shorter or longer than this. Informal counseling and quick check-ups can last less than 30 minutes, while therapy for more serious cases (e.g. drug abuse) can last longer. Group therapy sessions usually last 90 minutes because there are more people talking. In some special cases, it can last for over two hours, depending on how long a therapist is willing to extend your session. However, most cases generally only need one therapy hour.

What Questions Will the Therapist Ask?

You don’t have to practice a long speech detailing your life story, but expect that you have to explain why you decided to attend therapy. Whether you’re a talker or not, your therapist will be able to lead the conversation and figure out what mental condition you may have.

Their methods aren’t a cookie-cutter situation though, as your therapist adjusts accordingly depending on her patients, so we can’t really predict what your therapist will ask. However, expect them to ask questions about your personal life and living situation just to get to know your life better.

Will I Have to Take Medication Immediately?

Unless it’s an extremely serious mental condition that requires medication, you won’t be forced to take medication immediately. Your therapist will provide you with the information on what the medicine is, what it does, and the side effects you can expect to feel. If you want to, you can begin medication immediately, and they will issue a prescription. Or, if you feel like you need to consider the effects first, you can wait until your next session to decide if you want to take medicine.

However, take note that not all therapists are allowed to prescribe medication. Guidance counselors and some psychologists are not licensed to issue prescriptions. Only those with a medical license can give you medicine.

How Often Do I Have to Attend Therapy?

This answer depends on you and your therapist. Most patients attend therapy once a week, depending on your and your therapist’s schedule, but you could have more or fewer sessions per week. If your mental health requires more frequent sessions, your therapist may recommend seeing them twice per week. However, if the threat of self-harm is low and you feel like you can cope with every other week, once a month, or until you need a new prescription, you can choose to lower the number of sessions.

This will also have to depend on how many sessions you can financially afford. If your therapist believes you need a regular number of sessions but you aren’t financially capable of doing so every week, you could have fewer sessions.

How Long Will Therapy Last?

The time it takes you to attend therapy sessions depends on how well your progress with your therapist goes. Some people only need a handful of sessions before their therapist decides it’s no longer necessary. Others, however, may require therapy for years as a means to cope with their mental illness.

Therapists do not recommend going cold turkey and simply “ghosting” your therapist. Therapists have found that a final good-bye session where the therapist and patient can summarize the patient’s progress can lead to a better long-term outcome for the patient compared to patients who simply decide not to show up anymore.

Therapy can be daunting for those who haven’t taken it yet. However, it is the first step to taking back your mental health wellness, so you should not be ashamed of some of the questions you may have about it.

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