We Americans are strange people. We often live our lives based on the idea that there are no absolutes. But then there are other times when we need absolutes in order to move forward. Take marriage counseling. It is not uncommon for first-time clients to ask their therapists how many sessions it will take to fix their relationships.

Such a question is evidence of wanting an absolute where none exists. A therapist cannot offer an arbitrary number of sessions. And what if they did but were unable to deliver? They would end up with unhappy clients whose relationship might never be restored. They could also face legal trouble if the couple were so inclined.

Counseling Is a Process

What many people do not understand about counseling is that it is not a single action. It is not even a set of five or six actions. Counseling is a process. It’s a lot like painting your house. You establish a goal before you start – covering all the siding with new paint – and then set out on the actual process of doing so.

First, you will scrape off any loose and flaking paint. Then you’ll completely wash the house and let it dry. Then you will apply primer, two coats of exterior latex paint, and trim paint. All the while, every step of the process is impacted by things like the weather and temperature. The chances of you getting done by your target date are pretty slim.

Lots of Things Affect Counseling

Just like painting your house, there are lots of things that affect counseling. First and foremost are the goals you and your counselor set. Those goals may change throughout the journey depending on what counseling reveals. That in itself can easily turn three or four counseling sessions into six or eight.

The attitudes of the clients also affect counseling. An eager and willing attitude can facilitate reaching goals faster. An angry and unwilling attitude can require extra sessions to break through.

At Relationships & More, a counseling center in Rye, NY, therapists put a lot of emphasis on client attitudes. They say client willingness is the single most important factor in determining how long the counseling journey takes. The more willing clients are to participate, the more quickly the journey can progress.

An Ongoing Journey

If counseling could achieve its stated goals with a single action, clients would not need to schedule multiple sessions. Moreover, counseling would be seen as the best way to solve all sorts of interpersonal problems. If we could just do one thing and fix it all, boom – we would.

Counseling being a journey gives us the starting point for understanding that solving interpersonal problems is not necessarily easy. But guess what? The journey that begins in counseling continues after sessions are complete. Why? Because of what counseling accomplishes.

When counselors are successful, they help their clients better understand themselves, the other people they interact with, and the overall nature of their relationships. Once discovery is made, improving relationships becomes a lifelong process. There’s always room for improvement. And of course, clients need to be careful not to regress.

Whatever It Takes

The answer to the ‘how many sessions’ question is this: whatever it takes. A good counselor will work with clients week after week, month after month, etc. They will stick with it until the client expresses the desire to go it alone. It could be as few as two or three sessions or as many as ten to twelve. There really is no set schedule.