Q1 — Your Main Question — Why is almost all therapy done as one-hour sessions weekly?
Two studies attempted to observe the effects of session frequency in routine practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Both relied on retrospective evaluations by patients after completing therapy, and on naturalistic data regarding session frequency and dose. Each was asked to rate his or her recovery in therapy, including decrease in symptom distress and increasein morale.
Both studies indicated a relationship between the frequency of sessions and patients’ perceptions of recovery, where patients being seen only once a week had less positive perceptions of their experience than patients being seen two times a week or more. In fact, positive perceptions of recovery were incrementally related with the frequency of sessions, with once a week indicating the least amount of recovery, twice a week somewhat more, and three times a week the most recovery in therapy (Freedman, Hoffenber, Vorus, & Frosch, 1999; Sandell et al., 2000). This provides some evidence that patients’ perceptions of their own recovery may be affected positively by increased session frequency.
A follow-up study to Sandell et al. (2000) found an interaction effect in long-term follow-up (i.e., 3 years, with measures taken each year) between duration and frequency, where outcome was better among the low frequency/low duration group and among the high frequency/high duration group (Sandell, Blomberg, & Lazar, 2002). These findings illustrate the potentially complex relationship between session frequency and other parameters, including the number of sessions and duration of the course of treatment; ultimately, they indicate that session frequency seems to be related not only to immediate perception of therapy, but to long-term outcome.
So what is this telling us?
Twice weekly or more sessions may gain quicker results in perception, but in the long term, it is doing the client a disservice.
The frequency of sessions helps balance cost, intensity, and emotional containment (Seeman, n.d.). Therapy can be emotionally intense and someone may learn many things (about themselves and what they are dealing with) in session. More time in session can raise an amount of information which can be difficult to absorb mentally and emotionally, and this is what Sandell, Blomberg, & Lazar (2002) was starting to realise.
High frequency/high duration therapy as indicated by Sandell, Blomberg, & Lazar would be very costly, and, from my experience as a therapist who as part of training has had to undergo therapy too, would not be as beneficial as low frequency/low duration therapy. With high frequency/high duration therapy, the client is not necessarily fully assimilating the information at their own pace, and, the chances are, the therapist is guiding too much on how to interpret the information raised in session. Low frequency/low duration therapy is about pacing your therapy, and the fact that therapy does not just happen in the room.
The time outside the room enables the client to assimilate the information which has been discussed in session at their own pace. Depending on the form of therapy, the therapist may even set some "homework tasks" outside of the session which are optional, but may help with assimilation processes.
Being weekly, it will be recent enough that session continuity will be maintained. Any longer in duration between sessions runs the risk of continuity problems as what was discussed can be hard to remember to a certain degree, and the flow of conversation and therapy can be upset slightly, affecting rapport. There may be times when you may wish to cancel a scheduled appointment with your therapist because you are finding things too difficult. That is fine as long as you give the pre-agreed notice to your therapist. Late cancellations can incur cancellation charges with most therapists.
It is part of therapy in some cases to want to skip a session once in a while, and as long as there are not too many cancellations, your therapist will understand and can pick things up when you return, whilst examining with you what made things difficult. If there are a lot of cancellations, questions will be raised as to whether you are ready for therapy. in order for therapy to work, the client needs to be ready for it
Clients immersed in intense emotional or life changes may see their therapist twice a week or more often to help keep them be emotionally centered and assist them in activating coping skills (Seeman, n.d.)
however, once things have reached a certain point, it is better for the client to revert to once-weekly sessions for reasons already pointed out.
Q2 — Why do we pause mid-conversation and wait seven days?
With the idea of conversations being cut mid-way because of the end of session, a good therapist will manage the session and enable as smooth an ending as possible. Although sessions booked will be an hour long, the typical “therapy hour” is 45 to 50 minutes. In some situations a therapist may offer longer sessions. For instance, a couple in therapy may find themselves just getting into a long-needed conversation. Added time may help them maintain the momentum.
The 10 to 15 minute difference with the "therapy hour" enables therapy to be closed as smoothly as possible giving time for the client to transition from therapy session to life outside the room. When you are approaching the end of the therapy hour, your therapist should be mindful of that and work towards a smooth closure of the session in order for the client not to be "left dangling with no support" after just talking about something very emotional without some kind of closure for the time being.
For tips on how to get the most out of Psychotherapy, see the webpage by Gary Seeman, PhD
For more information about what makes therapy work, see:
Duncan, B. L., Miller, S. D., Wampold, B. E., & Hubble, M. A. (2010). The heart and soul of change: Delivering what works in therapy. American Psychological Association.
Freedman, N., Hoffenberg, J. D., Vorus, N., & Frosch, A. (1999). The effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy: The role of treatment duration, frequency of sessions, and the therapeutic relationship. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(3), 741-772.
Sandell, R., Blomberg, J., Lazar, A., Carlsson, J., Broberg, J., & Schubert, J. (2000). Varieties of long-term outcome among patients in psychoanalysis and long-term psychotherapy: A review of findings in the Stockholm outcome of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy project (STOPP). The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 81(5), 921-942.
No working DOI available
[Free PDF available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12217712_Varieties_of_long-term_outcome_among_patients_in_psychoanalysis_and_long-term_psychotherapy_-_A_review_of_findings_in_the_Stockholm_Outcome_of_Psychoanalysis_and_Psychotherapy_Project_STOPPP]
Sandell, R., Blomberg, J., & Lazar, A. (2002). Time matters: On temporal interactions in long-term follow-up of long-term psychotherapies. Psychotherapy Research, 12(1), 39-58.
Seeman, G. (n.d.). Getting the Most Out of Psychotherapy [Online]
Available at: https://drgaryseeman.com/getting-the-most-out-of-psychotherapy