How long will I be in therapy?

So many clients want to know how long they will be in therapy, but often they are really asking something entirely different.

So many clients want to know how long they will be in therapy, but often they are really asking something entirely different.

How long will my therapy take?

A service I offer to all potential clients is a 15-minute phone consultation. It's a great chance for me to find out what a person is looking for in regards to therapy, but more importantly, it's an opportunity for you to get to know me and my counseling style and decide if I'm someone you would like to work with.

Most of the people who reach out to me are women who are struggling with eating disorders, since that’s my specialty. Often, this phone consultation is the first time that they have said, “I have an eating disorder” out loud. Also, most of the time, one of the first questions I am asked is some variation of, “How long is this going to take"?

It seems to me that this question can have a few different underlying meanings, such as...

Am I fixable?

Am I ever going to get over this or am I a lost cause? Fighting an eating disorder is exhausting, and by the time it gets to the point where a person is seeking out professional help, it can feel like there is nothing left but the eating disorder.

When someone speaks to me from this place of exhaustion and hopelessness, I find it’s helpful to call on that part of her/him that reached out for help. It’s that part that is doing the hard, but not impossible, work of fighting against the eating disorder.

Sometimes the client didn’t reach out to me. Maybe it’s a parent who is calling on behalf of a teenager, and mom or dad wants to know if their daughter will ever get over this. I let these parents know that a healthy support system is key to recovery. I explain that getting professional help from a team, trained in eating disorders, and being assessed for the appropriate level of care early on, are also important for recovery. I also remind these parents that although it seems like their daughter has been swallowed up by this eating disorder, she is still in there, and in therapy they will all learn to focus on that healthy part.

The honest answer is, I don’t know if any one person is going to be able to gain full recovery from her/his eating disorder. What I do know is that no one is a lost cause, and everyone deserves full recovery.

I'm worried about the cost. 

During the free 15-minute phone consultation, we will talk about fees and scheduling. Some clients get a bit nervous at this point, although I have noticed it’s not usually about booking that first appointment so much as it’s about not knowing how many appointments it’ll take.

Counseling is a financial commitment, for sure. No one is denying that, but it’s important to keep your eye on your goals, which for most people are:

  • being free of the eating disorder behaviors
  • eliminating the obsession with food and weight
  • living life again

If we look at it in terms of your goals, then the next question seems to be, how much has the eating disorder already cost you? How much of your time, relationships, sanity, freedom? What is it worth to you to get those things back?

I don't think I can handle this for much longer. 

This eating disorder is getting out of control and I’m going crazy! It can feel like that, can’t it? Maybe it feels like another week in this eating disorder will be one week too long, and you’ll crack under the pressure.

You’re strong. Just reaching out for help is fighting already. You are already making progress toward your goal.

Recovery is not like switching a light switch. You won’t go from being in the eating disorder (off position) to being in recovery (on position). Recovery is more like a dimmer switch, where you turn the circle to varying shades of light. It takes time, but hear me when I tell you that doing a 15-minute phone consultation or a Google search for “eating disorder counselors in Vancouver WA and Portland OR”, means that you’re already turning that dimmer switch and shining some light.

I'm ready to start living my life. 

Once you get tired of the behaviors, it can feel like torture to still be compelled to act on them. Some people report the days suddenly seem so long and exhausting, because they are noticing themselves doing all the things they don’t want to do anymore. Others may be obsessing endlessly over thoughts of which they just want to be free.

I’m going to use that light switch/dimmer switch analogy again. You don’t have to wait until you have full recovery ("on switch”) to start living your life the way you want. Be a dimmer switch instead and start doing some of those things now. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go zip-lining! Why wait? Do it now.

The eating disorder thrives on keeping you stuck and stagnant. It’ll lie to you and tell you that you can’t enroll in that art course or plan that dream vacation because you’re not “perfect yet”. Surprise, guess what? The time will never be “perfect” according to your eating disorder. It’ll always come up with a reason to stop you.

Start fighting the eating disorder and start living the life you want, today. You don’t have to wait.


So, how long will your therapy take? I don’t know. There is no formula for me to calculate how long you will be in counseling, but the fears you have about how long it’s going to take, if you’ll ever get over it, how much it’ll cost you, and how difficult it’ll be in the process…those things we can work through in session.


Do you, or someone you love, have an eating disorder? Are you in the Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR area? If you are looking for help and would like to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with me, please fill out the form here.


Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.