How Long Should You Try Therapy Before Quitting?

There are a few words and phrases in the therapy and developmental disabilities world that should always make you raise your eyebrows and be skeptical.

The biggest is "guaranteed."

Any therapy that "guarantees" success is likely being less than honest with their success rates. That's not to say that they don't have a high rate of success with clients, or that their methods are ineffective. They very well could be!

But any type of therapy is a highly individualized process. Success in speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or music therapy, depends heavily on a client-therapist personality fit. "Guaranteeing" that process is dubious at best.

I'll be the first to admit that music therapy isn't for everybody. Some individuals on the autism spectrum have strong sensory sensitivities that would make music therapy ineffective or unpleasant for that person (though I will add that music is far different from typical environmental sounds, and music therapy may be an extremely effective therapy for some individuals with mild or moderate auditory sensitivity). Some individuals aren't engaged or motivated by music, and music therapy just isn't something that will engage them appropriately.

And that's okay!

The question then is: how long should I give music therapy a shot before I decide it's not going to work?

This is a difficult question to answer, and another one of those situations that all depends on the situation. So while I can't provide a definitive, quantitative answer, I can tell you this:

You should try it more than once.

Yeah, I know, very insightful. But you'd be surprised how many people give music therapy one hour, then decide it's not going to work. There are a variety of factors though that make this an unwise decision.

1. Change in Routine

New therapy means a new routine. New schedule, new environment, and new people. For many kids and teens (especially on the autism spectrum), changes in routine take some time to adjust to.

2. Long Term Goals = Long Term Gains

We write our goals in 6-month increments, partly because a good goal ought to challenge an individual. Any goal that can be mastered in one or two sessions isn't a good goal!

3. Learning the Ropes

Not only is a new therapy a change in routine for a child or teen, it's also a new routine to learn. Anytime we take on a new task, it takes us some time to learn how it works, what the expectations are, and get our feet underneath us. It's very normal for new clients to struggle initially in a new therapy setting, even with skills they previously have mastered. Give it some time.

4. The Honeymoon

Every therapist and teacher knows what "the honeymoon" is. Anytime we get introduced to something new, fun, and exciting, there's always a brief period of bliss. Kids and teens starting a new therapy go through the same thing. Everything is new! Look at all these fun instruments! Music therapy is the greatest!

But it's also quite common to see this period fade after a few weeks. Then we frequently reach the testing the limits stage. Things aren't as new and exciting now. Now we frequently see kids and teens testing the limits to see how much they can get away with. Maladaptive behaviors may increase temporarily.

Soon after, we reach a stage of normalcy. It's very common to see waves of excellent behavior, followed by less-than-excellent-behavior, then back to a normal stage. To stop therapy before this process takes place would be premature.

3 Months is a Good Rule of Thumb

Would you go to the gym once, go home and step on the scale, then quit working out because you didn't see instant returns?

Would you buy stock in a company, only to sell it all off the next day because it didn't blow up overnight?

Not likely. You have to understand that these kind of things have a long term pay-off. Therapy should be approached from this same sort of long-term investment mindset. While every situation is different, a good general guideline would be to try things out for around 3 months. This should be enough time for your child to learn a new routine, adjust to the change, get to know their therapist, and see if this is a placement where they will be successful.

Of course, there are situations that would dictate cutting off therapy prior to this mark. Don't waste your time with a therapist that is grossly unprofessional (no documentation, lack of adequate training, etc.). These are signs that should alert you that you're not working with the kind of therapist that can help your child reach their fullest potential.

While 3 months is our typical recommendation at The George Center, we also never ask you to sign a contract or commit to a certain number of sessions. We want to ensure that you are 100% pleased and comfortable with your therapy services, and if you aren't, we want you to find a place where you will be. Locking a client into a 3-month contract would be unethical and unfair.

Interested in giving music therapy a try? Set up a free consultation and we'll answer all your questions!