Why Therapy Sessions Are Only 50 Minutes


Have you ever wondered why therapy sessions are not a full hour? Well Huffington Post looked into it and found there are several reasons why regular sessions are between 45-50 minutes.

While therapists take many different approaches to meeting frequency and length, the norm for individual therapy tends to be weekly 45- or 50-minute sessions. But when did this time become the standard “therapy hour” or “therapeutic hour”?

HuffPost spoke to Becky Stuempfig, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Encinitas, California, about the "therapeutic hour".

It Helps With Logistics

For therapists with back-to-back sessions, the 10 or 15-minute break offers the opportunity to write progress notes about the client they just saw, return calls and emails, handle billing, take a bathroom break, get a glass of water or even just relax.

Also for clients it can help with scheduling and maybe allow someone to have a session during their lunch break or before work.

Many therapists utilize 45 minutes, rather than 50, to extend the break between sessions, or to schedule back-to-back sessions on the hour and half-hour marks.

It Feels More Contained

There are also psychological reasons why these session times remain the norm. First of all, the length of time feels more contained, so it lessens the risk of over-exposure to painful emotions.

Having a clear endpoint after less than an hour can help create a safe space for the client to feel, process and contain intense emotions, rather than go into it with the sense that there’s no end in sight.  

It Encourages Good Use Of Time

Keeping therapy sessions under an hour may also motivate both parties to make the best of the time allotted.

When the client knows a big issue won’t be fully resolved in one session, they may feel more comfortable presenting it, discussing goals to counter the problem, exploring different aspects of it and learning coping skills to implement in everyday life.

Longer sessions may also lead to a sense of fatigue or burnout for both the therapist and the client. For children, that timing sweet spot can be shorter with 30-minute sessions, as 45 or 50 is sometimes too long for a kid’s attention span.

It Helps You Process What You Learn

It is good to process in increments rather one lengthy session. This is why therapists often suggest meeting more frequently, rather than extending sessions, when clients express a desire for more time.

It Allows You To Incorporate Your Findings

The important thing to keep in mind is that therapy is an ongoing conversation, and the real change happens when the clients practice what they learn in their lives outside the therapist’s office. The focus should be on the skills and insights they gain during sessions and how they’ll implement them ― not the length of the sessions.

Insurance Pushes it

Insurance companies also feed into the 45- or 50-minute session standard, as they base reimbursement on the type and length of therapy. A common billing code is 90834, which denotes 45 minutes of individual psychotherapy but can be used for sessions ranging from 38 to 52 minutes.

Source: HuffPost

Photo: Getty Images

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