Making Therapy Successful: Setting Goals for Therapy
You can make therapy more successful by setting goals. Learn about common goals of therapy, plus five tips for setting your own mental wellness goals with your therapist.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
July 11, 2023
Table of Contents
What are the goals of therapy?
A goal is defined as an aim, objective, or desired outcome. Goals represent who we are, what matters to us, and where we want to go. In therapy, goals are an important part of the healing process.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, was designed to help people identify, understand, and change difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. For many people, the goal of therapy is to gain the skills to live a healthier, happier, more balanced life. And to achieve that goal, it’s useful to have specific short-term and long-term objectives that align with your treatment plan.
Your goals will vary based on your therapist and the type of therapy that you do. Here are some common goals that people set during individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy.
Individual therapy goals
Individual therapy is an opportunity to receive one-on-one support from a trained professional for a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions.
Common individual therapy goals include:
- Understanding your mental health diagnosis
- Learning how to process overwhelming emotions
- Changing harmful or unhelpful behaviors
- Increasing self-esteem
- Improving communication skills
- Enhancing mindfulness
- Better understanding yourself and what you want in life
Family therapy goals
Family therapy is a type of counseling that helps families manage conflict mediation, anger management, and other relational skills.
Common family therapy goals include learning how to:
- Troubleshoot family struggles
- Work with each other instead of against each other
- Practice active listening to build more trusting communication
- Become more comfortable discussing challenges, discoveries, and accomplishments without withdrawing or reacting
Group therapy goals
Group therapy prioritizes connection, community, and collective healing among small groups of people. Groups can address a specific theme like sibling support or self-care or focus on communities such as LGBTQIA+ people or those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). Group therapy can also address specific mental health issues, such as addiction, trauma, or grief.
Common group therapy goals include:
- Social support
- Shared learning
- Increased accountability
- Gaining diverse perspectives
Benefits of setting goals in therapy
It’s important to remember that therapy is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting to the therapist’s chair is an important initial step in the therapeutic process, but it’s only the beginning of a person’s healing journey.
Finding the motivation to create change can be challenging, but setting goals is instrumental for laying the groundwork to improve your life. There are various benefits to setting goals in therapy, such as:
- Providing deeper insight into what you truly want in life
- Empowering and inspiring you to work toward your desired futures
- Providing focus and direction for both you and your therapist
- Offering the strength and motivation to challenge yourself
5 tips for setting goals in therapy
If you’re ready to set some therapy goals but aren’t sure how we have five suggestions to get you started.
1. Be honest
This means being honest with both yourself and your therapist. We often turn to therapy to help overcome some of our hardest moments in life. Whether it’s struggling with a mental health condition, suffering from intimate partner violence, or not knowing how to move forward, these events can make us feel our most vulnerable. Being honest can be challenging, but being vulnerable is an important part of the healing process.
When setting a goal, think about what brought you to therapy in the first place and what you hope to achieve with the support of your therapist. Still stuck? Here are a few questions to inspire honest reflection:
- Is there a specific problem that brought you to therapy? How is it impacting your life?
- Is there something in your life that tires or frustrates you?
- Is there something in your life that you love and want more of?
- Is there something you’d like to do but struggle to find the motivation to get started or follow through with it?
- Have you been in therapy before? Is there something you’d like to be different or better this time?
2. Keep it simple
Trouble at school, relationship issues, mental health struggles; sometimes it feels like when it rains, it pours. It can be tempting to walk into therapy looking for a solution to all our problems, but creating short-term and long-term goals is actually more effective. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once and feeling overwhelmed, focus on one or two specific issues. Goals should be meaningful and challenging yet still simple and achievable.
Here are a few examples:
- I want to find ways to cope with my anxiety to enjoy my senior year of high school.
- I currently resort to unhealthy eating habits when I feel stressed. I want to find safer ways to manage my feelings and emotions.
- I’m afraid my partner will break up with me if I don’t stop nagging them. I want to find out what’s really driving my behavior.
3. Monitor your progress
As with any goal, you’ll want to monitor your mental health progress. Tracking your emotional growth may be more difficult than tracking your grades, but it’s still possible (and important) to understand if treatment is helping you meet your goals and improve your mental well-being.
Therapists are trained to observe your progress and tailor your therapy experience to help you feel your best, but there are simple ways that you can track your mental and behavioral growth as well — such as journaling.
Journaling helps people to understand their feelings, monitor their growth, and stay motivated to achieve their goals. Bullet journaling, in particular, is often used to help people externalize their thoughts, foster mindfulness, and reflect on growth. For example, if you suffer from a mental health condition, such as anxiety, bullet journaling is a simple way to document how many episodes you had in a month, what triggered those episodes, and how you overcame them.
4. Be open to change
You may find that your goals and objectives change during therapy — that’s perfectly normal. One of the benefits of working with a therapist is that you can better understand who you are and what you want in life. As you make progress or as your life circumstances change, you may decide to change or develop new goals.
5. Make it collaborative
Setting goals can be intimidating, but don’t let it deter you from starting therapy. Although it’s important that your goals reflect your personal wants and needs, your therapist should be part of this process. In fact, goal-setting should be a collaborative practice so that both you and your therapist understand what you’re working towards.
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Choosing a therapist to help you meet your goals
When setting therapy goals, you’ll want to have the right partner to help you succeed. Whether you’re looking for a therapist for the first time or seeking someone who’s better aligned with your goals and objectives, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- What are their credentials and experience? For example, if your goal is to better manage your obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you will want someone with that expertise.
- Which therapeutic approach will they use to help you reach your goals? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy, so consider asking which types of therapy they use. Some examples include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), exposure therapy, and motivational interviewing.
- Is medication an option? If you think you might benefit from a combination of therapy and medication, you’ll want to find providers for both. Psychiatrists prescribe and manage medication, whereas therapists provide talk therapy.
- How do they monitor growth? Ask a prospective therapist how they assess patient progress and how they handle poor patient-therapist fit.
Set therapy goals with Charlie Health
Whether you’re exploring mental health treatment options for the first time or searching for extra support in reaching your goals, Charlie Health can help. We offer individualized and evidence-based mental health care in a safe, supportive space. With our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), each person is matched with a therapist to understand their specific needs and help them meet their mental health goals.
Contact Charlie Health to learn more today.