When you have psychological therapy, you will be asked to think about your treatment goals. The purpose of these goals is to give you a sense of direction that’s in line with your values and desires. They can also help your therapist determine whether your goals are compatible with the treatment approaches they offer.
When and How Will I Set Treatment Goals?
Goals are normally discussed and developed at the beginning of your therapy journey. The process is a collaborative one between you and your therapist. They will ask you questions like:
- What would you like to gain from therapy?
- What will be different for you after therapy?
- How would you like to be feeling?
- How will we know that you’re feeling better?
- What would you be doing differently in your life that would be evidence you’re feeling better?
What If I Don’t Know What I Want from Therapy?
It’s quite common for people to come to therapy with broad, vague goals like ‘I want to be happy’, ‘I want to be more confident’ or ‘I want to be less anxious’. These are difficult to work with because they’re not specific enough. In this instance, we would work together to develop goals that are specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time bound – SMART for short. An example of a SMART goal might be ‘I would like to be giving monthly presentations at work for up to six colleagues by the end of this year’.
This goal is really specific. It says what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it and how often. This is exactly the kind of goal we are looking for. Research shows us that the more specific a goal is, and the more we are able to visualise it happening, the more likely we are to follow it through. This is why we use SMART goals in therapy.
Why Are Therapy Goals Important?
Therapy goals are useful because they give you a sense of direction. They can also create a sense of hope that you’re working towards a better future for yourself. Goals keep therapy focused and prevent us from drifting into other life areas that are not aligned with your current needs and desires.
Ultimately, having goal directed therapy means you’re more likely to have successful therapy. We will return to your goals during your therapy journey to ensure we are on the right track. If we feel the work we’re doing is not helping you achieve your goals, we can redirect our sessions and make them more focused. At the end of therapy, it’s always nice to revisit the goals you wanted at the beginning of your journey. Hopefully, you’ll experience a sense of satisfaction and happiness that you have worked towards those goals, and maybe even achieved them.
Setting Goals Outside Therapy
Goals can also be useful outside the therapy room, even if you’re not currently in therapy. I like to set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are things you’d like to work towards within a couple of weeks. Medium-term goals are things you’d like to achieve within a couple of months. Long-term goals are more to do with how you’d like to be feeling or what you’d like to be doing within a couple of years.
We use this approach in therapy too. If we apply it to our original SMART goal above, in the short-term this might look like preparing your first presentation and inviting six colleagues to attend. In the medium-term, it might be learning to manage your anxiety so you can deliver regular presentations and feel comfortable doing so. Your long-term goal might be delivering a presentation or leading a workshop for a larger audience in a less familiar environment. Realistically, this may take longer to achieve.