During the holidays, many will reflect on their past goals and set new ones for the upcoming year. In the addiction treatment field, individuals’ top priority is typically to achieve and maintain sobriety. But regardless of who you are or the issues you may face, therapy is a great tool to evaluate what you would like to accomplish. Many folks enter therapy in crisis, not really knowing what their goals are or even their immediate needs. An assessment with a therapist can help you develop goals to achieve better life fulfillment.
What Are Common Goals People Can Set in Therapy?
Common goals in therapy vary from person to person and can range from setting healthy boundaries with people to gaining various perspectives on a big life decision. Maybe you need a starting point and you’re unsure of what you want to achieve. Below are some additional goals to consider bringing up with a therapist:
- Focus on dealing with the effects of anxiety or depression
- Learn to cope with stress or trauma in healthy ways
- Practice more self-care and take time for your mental health
- Become more assertive and set boundaries
- Increase your self-confidence and reduce negative self-talk
- Improve decision-making skills
What to Expect at Your First Few Therapy Sessions
Having a goal in mind when you first meet your therapist can streamline the session. Many folks enter therapy as a place to vent and gain perspective but aren’t necessarily looking to achieve something. Goals can direct therapy to be structured and focused. Let your therapist know if you want to accomplish certain things during your sessions, ask them for homework (this helps you stay on track and accountable in between sessions), and ensure their therapy style fits your needs. Most therapists are adaptable, but we need to know your thoughts and comfort level when you enter a session.
During the initial assessment, the therapist is going to delve into your history and gather comprehensive background information. That way, they can better understand you as a person and see repeating patterns in your life. It is important to be completely honest with your therapist during this process. Sharing general feelings like, “I’m unhappy,” is a valid place to start, but it would be beneficial to both you and your therapist if you gave more specific ideas of possible reasons for your unhappiness.
After a few introductory sessions, the therapist will then ask you about goal-setting when they create a treatment plan. They may suggest some goals based on themes they have heard you speak about, or let you direct the conversation completely.
Start Small: Reaching Your Goals is Not an Overnight Process
Be open with your therapist if there are things you want to work on, and don’t be afraid to tell the therapist that a goal they suggest isn’t a priority for you. This is your time; in order for you to get what you want out of your sessions, you have to be honest and direct. Sometimes you may have a broader goal in mind, like gaining more self-confidence. Therapists might suggest focusing on smaller goals first, like avoiding comparing yourself to other people. Oftentimes, therapists will partner with you to achieve certain pieces of the larger puzzle, so try to be patient.
Setting unmeasurable goals with no specific deadline may sound liberating in theory, but you likely will not position yourself for success. Your therapist will work closely with you to make challenging yet achievable goals that make sense depending on your lifestyle and daily routine.
Accomplishing goals is like a hike to the summit; it takes time, a little redirection when coming across obstacles, and perseverance. You won’t get there overnight, so getting over all those small hurdles is progress. It’s great to come to a session with an agenda of your own, especially if you have had a setback or major progress. This opens the dialogue to speak about your progress, what you learned, and what you can do differently in the future.
Why Work with a Therapist to Set Goals?
Setting goals in therapy is beneficial to both your mental and emotional health for several reasons:
- If you struggle with creating and meeting goals on your own, partnering with a therapist can foster accountability and build confidence. Many who are struggling with substance use disorders, anxiety, or depression wrestle with feelings of hopelessness. Having an added layer of support from a mental health professional can provide the encouragement to better visualize, clarify, and reach goals that may have previously seemed unattainable.
- Therapists have a trained ear for listening to patterns in your life and recommending solutions based on what has worked for their previous clients. Additionally, therapists can partner with clients to create SMART goals (ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based). By drawing from their knowledge base, a professional can set you up for greater success
- Licensed and certified mental health professionals are similarly trained in therapeutic models such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Motivational Therapy, which can empower people, reduce ambivalence they may have toward their lives, and help them develop more positive ways of thinking in the present so they can remain focused on their goals.
Goals in therapy act as a roadmap and keep us motivated, happy, and ready to take on new obstacles. The more progress you make, the further you will want to go, and achieving those small goals can mitigate the setbacks we face each day. If you can successfully achieve goals with a professional’s guidance, then you already have a solid foundation to set and accomplish goals outside of therapy on your own.