Getting to Goals in Therapy

By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | August 11, 2017

You have made the difficult decision to meet with a therapist. But, what will you work on in therapy? What will be the goals of your treatment?

Deciding to meet with a therapist for the first time takes strength and courage, especially while experiencing emotional pain and life difficulties. You should know that most therapists have been in therapy themselves as a requirement of their graduate training.  They personally know what it is like to be a client and understand the vulnerability with which you face therapy.

Once you have decided on therapy, identifying what you want out of the therapy can be confusing if not overwhelming. Often, it is easier to identify what you do not want rather than the life you would like to live. For example, you might want to rid your anxiety, anger, or depression. Or, you may want to regain your self-confidence or happiness. These goals are well-intentioned and logical, but they do not define the changes in your life that you wish to achieve.

A more helpful approach is to ask yourself questions to develop your goals, such as:  What do I want to be like or do differently as a result of treatment? What would I be doing differently if I were not so full of anxiety?

Perhaps you might reach out to your friends more often, or be more honest in your relationships about what you need and what your boundaries are. Maybe you might have the courage to take the steps to realize a career goal or your dream. Rather than focusing on not being anxious or depressed, consider what you would be doing differently if you were not anxious or depressed.

Define your treatment goals by reflecting on the following:

  • What would my life look like if I were not struggling with _______?
  • What activities would I start doing that I might have been avoiding?
  • What kind of person would I be in my family, friend, or work relationships and how would I be behaving differently in them and towards them?
  • What thoughts, feelings, and images come to mind when I think about living a full, meaningful life?
  • What things are most important to me in life? (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy defines these things as our Values)

If you have difficulty answering some or all of these questions, bring this to the attention of your therapist. Your therapist is there to help you explore your values and articulate your goals. Having clarity on direction will help you get the most out of your therapy experience. It also enhances the therapist’s ability to help you achieve your goals.


Image: Thoroughly Reviewed on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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