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May 9, 2024

How Long Does Therapy Take for PTSD?

Recovery timelines from PTSD varies, with evidence-based treatments lasting from a few weeks to four months, depending on if a patient chooses traditional weekly sessions or intensive daily therapies to expedite healing.

Sofia Noori, MD, MPH
How Long Does Therapy Take for PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a profound psychological response to traumatic events such as childhood abuse, accidents, domestic or sexual violence, or combat. Although individuals may experience a variety of symptoms and emotions, there are evidence-based treatments available that lead to recovery. However, the duration to reach this milestone varies from person to person

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), one’s coping mechanisms and support system, and their 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 takes years. It’s possible to achieve full recovery from PTSD, with long-lasting healing after treatment. The most effective treatments 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 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 extend or reduce the total number of sessions—in fact, some patients recover in as little as five 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 secondary treatment for PTSD that also includes a variable length. Most individuals see improvements within 8 to 12 sessions, and session lengths vary from 60 to 90 minutes. 

The Power of Massed Treatment

An emerging and transformative approach is massed treatment—which unlike traditional weekly therapy sessions, 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 up to decades.

Session Frequency Determines Treatment 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 three months.

Recovery Is Not Linear 

Therapy is often not 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, co-occurring issues, 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. If you feel you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, please reach out to Nema to explore our evidence-based treatment that helps trauma survivors reach healing quickly and effectively.