This is a very difficult question to answer, because everyone is different, everyone’s story is different, and everyone’s trauma is “stuck” in a unique way.
But clients have a right to know how long things might take. So to show I’m not avoiding the question altogether, I’ll talk about it a little bit.
First of all, many people have spent many years suffering. It’s natural to want a quick fix, and our society specializes in quick. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to do that with therapy than with other things. That said, trauma therapy used to take many years, and with more modern and powerful therapies, it usually doesn’t. Trauma therapy length depends on a number of factors, so let’s start there.
What influences how long it takes?
What are the factors?
There are many factors that go into determining this; before our first session, I don’t know any of them, and some of them we’ll never know, or at least not until afterwards. The good news is that there is an afterwards. Some things that influence how long it takes to get there:
Some people want a deep healing of their symptoms, others are satisfied with some significant changes that help them in their everyday life; sometimes people just want to be well enough to function in a job or a relationship. This part depends on you.
The type and severity of the trauma
If we’re just working on a single event that happened when you were an adult, then it could be fairly short—possibly between 1-3 months. The research on childhood trauma recommends 15-30 months, but I’ve had clients who were satisfied with what they accomplished sooner, sometimes much sooner. But no matter what, we can’t know how it will go until we get started.
How “stuck” is the trauma?
If you’ve read my pages on PTSD, you know that the symptoms we see are natural and reasonable responses to threat. However, the threat is now over. So the body seems stuck in a place where it responds as if the trauma is still going on. We don’t know why. We just know that there are some things that might help get it unstuck. If we can do that, the healing process will proceed naturally, although that takes some time. We can’t know exactly how much time, but we do know that it seems to continue even after therapy is completed, if the therapy was effective.
There are other factors that make a difference. We don’t know what they all are, by any means. We know that having one trauma often makes it more difficult to recover from a second one. Also, we know that having social resources (good relationships with some family and friends) helps. There are other things that make a difference, too. (see my blog on Resources)
How soon will we know?
Not right away. Sometimes we’ll know a little bit after a few sessions, sometimes it will take longer to determine. It takes what it takes. But I’m not interested in dragging things out unnecessarily—the suffering has lasted long enough.
Here’s my suggestion. Let’s give it a chance. Let’s have a few sessions together. The first thing that should happen is that you should start feeling more comfortable in our session. If that doesn’t happen by the third session, we’re probably not a good fit. By then we will have started the first phase of trauma treatment—what I call resourcing. We’ll work on that for a while, finding and using the tools that seem to work best for you. When that’s finished and we start into the middle part of treatment, then we will begin to know more about how your system is responding to the things we do. Then, of course, we’ll keep adjusting as we go along, based on what we find out and what your goals are.
Here’s my promise to you: I’ll always be open about my opinion and my reasons for it. I’ll also try not to speculate when I don’t know. That’s my professional commitment to being open with my clients about what we’re doing. You’re always in charge.
If you’re in or near Colorado Springs, you can contact me using the form below or by calling 970-377-4577.