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How to set goals in therapy

July 4, 2019

When you begin cognitive behavioural therapy, your therapist will want to understand what you would like to achieve by the end of your therapy sessions and will work with you to set some goals for your therapy. This is an important part of CBT and will help your therapist to tailor their sessions for your needs, make sure sessions stay focused and provide a good measure for progress.

What is a goal?

A goal is something that you want to achieve by the end of your time in therapy. It needs to be specific and measurable, as well as something you can realistically work towards in the here and now. When you are feeling low or anxious it can be easy to think, ‘I just want to feel happier’ or, ‘I want to not feel anxious any more’. However, these emotions are a natural part of life and something we will all experience at different times. Finding something specific, that you can really see a difference in, will help you to see if you are making any progress and will lead to you feeling better overall, more quickly.

How to set goals

A good way to start with setting goals is to think about all the things you are doing in your life now or struggling with and what you would like to be doing. Are there things you used to do or wish you could do that you aren’t able to do right now?

An ieso clinical supervisor suggests asking the question, “If you were to wake up in the morning and things were different, what would be different? And how would you know that things were different? Perhaps you want to wake up and be able to get out of bed after having a full night’s sleep and not feel drained anymore? Or be able to visit your local supermarket alone? The more specific and practical your goals are, the more focused your sessions will be and the more you’ll be able to recognise your progress.”

Breaking things down

If you haven’t had any experience of setting goals, it can feel a little tricky at first. Particularly if you are struggling to word how you feel and what you want to be able to achieve. A good place to start is by breaking things down. If you think, “I just want to feel happier” what does happier mean to you? What does it look like? What are some of the things you do, or used to do, that made you feel happy? Try writing a list of all the things you would like to do and talk through these with your therapist. They’ll be able to help you break down what feels like an overwhelming feeling into smaller, more manageable goals.

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