Can you get results from one therapy session?

If you are wondering whether you can get results from either a “single session by design” or from a “single session by default”, this blog might help you. Read on to see the difference between them and the next steps for each case.

Before we delve into this blog, it is important to make the distinction between “single-session therapy by design”, and “single-session therapy by default”. The former is a category of therapy which seeks to display results following one session. The latter is when a patient has a course of therapy booked but is unable or unwilling to revisit it after the first appointment.  

Therapy is something more people are looking towards in the present day, due to increased awareness of its benefits. However, there are many different forms of therapy, and not all of them are equal. The duration fluctuates alongside the type of therapy, meaning there is a vast combination of type and time. In this blog, we will be discussing whether you can get results from either a “single session by design” or from a “single session by default” and the possible next steps for each case. 

But I don’t need therapy!

Sometimes, people might seek shorter-term therapy as a way of getting it done as quickly as possible. However, the benefits of therapy may not present themselves this way, as humans generally do not benefit from trying to get things done as soon as possible. 

Firstly, If you booked a block of therapy but only managed to attend one session you may be missing out on heaps of information. 

We can think of a course of therapy similarly to a course of antibiotics; you are told and recommended to complete the full course for your best interest. Therapy is similar. Continuing with the prescribed treatment will be more beneficial than attending one or two sessions and leaving it. Antibiotics take some time to kick in and you may find therapy is the exact same! Also, you are not alone if you feel like you do not want to go back- it’s estimated that 20% of people end therapy prematurely. There could be many reasons for people leaving, with one of them being that the course of therapy is too long, or they feel like they do not have time for it. If that sounds like you, single-session therapy by design may be for you. 

What is single-session therapy?

Single-session therapy by design can be great for individuals who are new to therapy and want a pragmatic, solution-based approach. The focus is on unpacking problems associated with the present and leaving with clear goals and steps to act on. 

Therapy is an important tool that can be used by everyone, regardless of background and experience with talking about emotions and feelings.  It’s important that we know how to help ourselves whenever we feel like things are piling up. All of us, at some point, will experience times in our life when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired, anxious or lonely. Struggling with your emotions or your daily life can have a knock-on effect on different aspects of life. It can affect your relationships, work, hobbies, sleep, happiness, nutrition and more. 

For some, they may have established support networks in place to help them feel a little bit better. These can include a range of things such as exercise, cooking, painting, music and reading. Others may be unsure about how to go about things. 

This is where therapy comes in; a reflective conversation is facilitated where you can identify any negative behaviours or patterns. 

Why is therapy important? 

Therapy is important in the current climate as the increased use of social media has led to an escalation in  false information, especially around self-care and self-improvement. Accounts with no psychological backing or education can post potentially harmful information, which can actually increase the severity of symptoms for those seeking help. Single-session therapy can help realign our actions with our goals on an individual scale; a great alternative to trying to replicate generic advice. It also has the benefit of being much shorter than other forms of therapy. 

For example, social media opens the doors for comparisons to be made with ourselves and people we aspire to be like. These could be social media personalities, athletes, models and businessmen.  People who are struggling may attempt things that work for other people, such as following a strict schedule during the day; unfortunately, they are often unable to sustain this lifestyle. This is because we are all different people; what works for others may not work for you. Therapy allows us to bridge that gap as the focus is solely on you. The focus of the single session therapy would be goals and targets related to you, and you alone. 

Therapy is an umbrella term encompassing a huge range of issues; for the sake of this article, we’ll adopt the definition of therapy being a means of acquiring skills to help us deal with life events. A toolbox almost, with each different apparatus being used for different emotions / events. The more we understand ourselves and our habits, the greater the toolbox becomes. The greater the toolbox becomes, the better equipped we are for dealing with life events. 

Can you get results from one-therapy session? 

Acquiring any skill takes time, and therapy is the same. For that reason, longer periods of therapy generally work better, but results can still be seen with one-therapy session.

Athletes at the top of their sport practice meticulously for long periods of time. Authors draft, edit and write repeatedly. A craftsman’s first and most recent piece of work would be incomparable. We get better at the things we practice, and being able to manage our emotions better is something we should definitely try to pay attention to. 

Normally, if you want to get good at something, you practice repeatedly over and over again until you are confident. 

We should adopt the same approach for therapy.  As mentioned in the section above, we’re thinking of therapy like a toolbox; the more time you spend within a therapeutic setting, the better the toolbox becomes. The better the toolbox becomes, the better chance you have of being able to cope with what life throws at you in a healthy sustainable manner. For instance, if you’re feeling very anxious and decide to go to therapy, you may get varying results based on the time you spend there. The longer you spend, the more in depth the therapist will go with you into understanding and dealing with your symptoms. 

What results CAN you get from one-therapy session?

Before beginning my research for this article, my opinion was that a single therapy session would simply not work. However, this was with the view of the one session being a smaller, bite-size version of longer therapy. However, there can be a different approach between a single therapy session and long-term therapy. Each method can benefit you in different ways. 

Following the example of anxiety, the short-term or immediate benefit of single-session therapy would be implementing measures to help deal with the anxiety when it happens, to mitigate the effects it may be having on your daily life. Single-session therapy focuses more on how to deal with present, day-to-day tasks; if the symptoms of anxiety are hindering your ability to socialise, single-session therapy would offer solutions for that. Due to the therapy being centred around practical solutions, you may feel like it “works” better. The focus is towards the future; the aim is to develop concrete plans to reach goals.  One session of  therapy is also much cheaper than repetitive therapy, so if you are looking for practical, quick and cheaper results, single-session therapy may work in your favour. 

Why should I continue with therapy if one session can yield results? 

Once again, we will use the anxiety example to delve into this valid concern: Spending longer in therapy may help you to identify why you’re feeling anxious in the first place. Further sessions would then help you to identify techniques (tools!) that you can adopt to:

  • Decrease the likelihood of abnormal levels of anxiety: This could be done through establishing a good routine. 
  • Understand certain triggers that may prompt you to feel more anxious: The more we talk about things, the better understanding we gain.
  • Learn how to successfully navigate periods where your anxiety is bad: Instead of just being a response-based approach for one type / situation of anxiety, it can transcend different scenarios, making you more resilient and prepared than ever. 

If we only stuck to the short-termn therapy, we would miss out on heaps of beneficial skills. We can think back to our toolbox again; if we only upgraded the tools we had once, we would have issues popping up every so often. This would lead us back to square one. However, if we consistently upgrade and review the tools we have and need, the issues that pop up would be much easier to solve. The single-session therapy may be useful for the looming problem, but does not help equip you for different scenarios. 

Do I need to have months of therapy?

Most people do not need months of therapy. It is possible to benefit from the single-session therapy design, but for the majority of people, it would be like putting a plaster on a severe wound. Upon leaving the single therapy session, you may feel motivated and excited to put into practice what you have discovered. 

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to implement, because looking after ourselves is a skill, and consistent therapy helps us to refine and develop this skill. Longer periods of therapy may benefit because we can learn lots from our past, and apply the knowledge to future situations. If we learn that we have a tendency to unhealthily attach to people, long-term therapy would help understand why that is happening and how to change it. 

There are also other reasons why results may be limited with single-session therapy: a good, understanding client-practitioner relationship is crucial for good results. A good practitioner will help develop insight; this is very unlikely after a single session as there hasn’t been enough communication to establish a solid relationship. The world of self-care is a daunting, new thing for people who have never really had time to slow down and think about things. If picking up a new sport, or hobby, we wouldn’t expect one session to be sufficient. We can use the same thought for therapy too, especially because of how daunting it is to many people. 

If one therapy session doesn’t cut it, what should I do?  

The first thing to do would be to not panic; it’s important to understand that therapy is different for everyone. We’ve all had completely different lives, and no two people are the same. Therefore, there’s no one size fits all approach to therapy. People who have a really clear idea of what it is they need help with may benefit hugely from single-session therapy. Others, who form the majority, are trying therapy because their emotions are overwhelming and difficult to disentangle. Therapy is not just therapy; when we think of it as our toolbox, we begin to understand why it may be important to persist consistently, so we can become the best version of ourselves. Each person will respond differently to the different types of therapy and there is nothing wrong with that! Experimenting and finding what works for you is the most important thing. 

If you are interested in therapy, you might want to read this blog Is CBT the best therapy for me?

Mubashir Amin is a final-year Psychology student and volunteer Assistant Psychologist with the RESET Health Group. An aspiring clinical psychologist, rugby player and personal trainer he has a keen interest in mental health and wants to devote his life to helping others. 

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