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April 3, 2023

How Long Does it Take to Recover from PTSD?

Evidence-based treatment often leads to recovery from PTSD — but how long it takes to achieve this milestone varies based on a few key factors. One size does not fit all when it comes to treatment, but the journey to recovery may be shorter than you think.

Sofia Noori, MD, MPH
How Long Does it Take to Recover from PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a profound psychological response to traumatic events. While individuals may grapple with a range of symptoms and emotions, effective treatment is available. Evidence-based treatment often leads to recovery — but how long it takes to achieve this milestone varies based on a few key factors.

One Size Doesn't Fit All, But Treatment Is Shorter Than You Think

Every person's journey with PTSD is unique. The nature and intensity of the trauma(s),  and one’s coping mechanisms and support systems, and current circumstances, can all influence a person’s recovery. However, this does not mean that PTSD needs to last a lifetime or that recovering from PTSD needs to take years. Rather, PTSD is a recoverable illness with many effective treatments. These evidence-based treatments for PTSD take about 2-4 months to complete and can lead to permanent recovery. 

Typical Durations of Evidence-Based Therapies

Therapies designed specifically for PTSD range in their total duration, but are generally delivered 1-2 times per week: 

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): Highly recommended by major practice guidelines, CPT typically runs for 10 to 12, 50-minute sessions. Individual needs can, of course, extend or reduce the total  number of sessions. In fact, some patients recover in as little as 5 sessions 
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE): Another primary approach to PTSD therapy, PE usually spans 8 to 15, 90-minute sessions. The nature of facing the traumatic memory head-on can extend or contract the total  duration based on individual progress
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a second line treatment for PTSD that also features a variable length. Most individuals see improvements within 8 to12 sessions, and session lengths vary from 60 to 90 minutes 

The Power of Massed Treatment

An emerging and transformative approach is massed treatment. Unlike traditional weekly therapy sessions, massed treatment involves intensive daily sessions that can lead to trauma recovery in as little as 10 to 12 days.. This approach not only results in faster recovery, but has also been shown to yield better treatment outcomes. By immersing oneself in the therapeutic process without extended breaks, individuals often experience more cohesive and accelerated healing. Additionally, studies show that massed treatment is effective among survivors who have experienced PTSD symptoms for decades

Session Frequency Determines Length

While massed treatment offers robust benefits, traditional therapy frequencies may work better for some individual’s schedules. Although CPT and PE treatment protocols encourage twice weekly therapy, once weekly sessions are often standard in the community due to therapist availability. Assuming an average of 12 sessions for any trauma therapy protocol, a survivor can expect to complete PTSD treatment in approximately 3 months.

Recovery Is Not Always Linear

Therapy is not always a linear journey. When completing trauma therapy, expect breakthroughs and plateaus. Many find the first few sessions to be emotionally-taxing, as they recall details about their trauma that they have avoided for quite some time. This is normal and to be expected. Much like healing from a physical wound, there can be setbacks, but with consistent tending to the wound, improvement is inevitable.

It's Your Journey

Overcoming PTSD through therapy is deeply personal. While evidence-based therapies offer general timelines, factors like massed treatment, session frequency, comorbidities, and individual nuances can influence how long it takes to achieve recovery from PTSD. With effective treatments and personal commitment, healing is well within reach.

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