Before starting treatment, or even seeking treatment, ask yourself, “what do you want from your mental health therapy?” It can be very useful to have some sort of idea of what your therapy goals are. With no goals to attain, it’ll be harder to see improvements in your mental health.
For example, when I tried to get help for my borderline personality disorder, I had one simple goal. That goal was to feel love and to love others. Love was my goal because I have attachment issues, which cause relationship difficulties. I have these problems because of the racist bullying I endured at the hands of everyone around me at primary school, and the emotional neglect I got at home.
The Broad Therapy Goals
What’s important to remember is that the counsellor isn’t there to fix you, but to guide you towards your own recovery. Only you can fix you. Thus, depending on who you talk to, there are between four and nine broad therapy goals. These broad therapy goals cover the basic tenants of counselling and will probably form the bedrock of your sessions.
The five therapy goals
- Changing behaviours
This goal is pretty self explanatory. You have a behaviour you would like to change. I came across this one a lot while working at a substance misuse service. There are many ways to approach behaviours change, such as setting up SMART goals to help facilitate change. Cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT) is the therapeutic approach most often used to change behaviours. But, whatever the methods used, the therapist will help you change or get rid of the behaviour.
- Establishing and maintaining relationships
This is the one I sort help for, because of my romantic relationship issues. For this, the therapist can help develop actionable goals with you (Taylor Counseling Group) and help you develop social and relationship skills.
- Improving your ability to cope
Having mental health issues can present a lot of challenges that you’ll need to learn to cope with. I know I did with my anxiety disorders. A therapist will help you learn to cope with the changes relating to your mental health, as well as how to cope with other changes, such as loss.
- Facilitating decision-making
Making decisions can be tough, especially when no matter what your decision is, there’s going to be a chance for regret. This therapy goal is to enable the individual to make critical decisions which they may have become stuck on. The therapist won’t help you by making the decision for you, but they’ll help you get to a place where you can make that decision yourself.
- Personal development
Personal development should be a lifelong endeavour for everyone. A therapist will help you assess your skills and qualities to help you reach your maximum potential.
Questions To Ask Yourself To Create Your Therapy Goals
There are a lot of questions you could ask yourself to get an idea of what your therapy goals might be. However, remember to keep them realistic, because your therapists are only human. They can’t wave a magic wand and fix you. Also, answering these questions can also make for a good journalling idea.
- What causes me to seek therapy?
- What are the things I need help with?
- What do I want to achieve during my therapy sessions?
- What difficulties do I want help with?
- What does my recovery look like?
- What are the things in my life that I’m tired of?
- What are the things in my life that I love and want more of?
- What life skills do I think I need?
- How could therapy improve my quality of life?
- What would my ideal self look like after completing treatment?
- What do I want to change about my situation?
- What symptoms would I want to reduce the intensity of?
- What trauma or event(s) do I need help to process?
- What are my harmful behaviours?
- How’s my self-esteem?
- Are there any boundaries I need?
- What’s going on in my life?
- What do I believe is blocking me from the things I want in life?
- What are the things I haven’t done yet that I’d still like to do?
An Example Of Questioning Yourself To Create Your Therapy Goals
I’m stealing this example from the Counselling Directory, which goes like:
Imagine that while you’re sleeping all of your problems are solved. When you wake up, what changes do you notice? (Consider emotional and behavioural changes and thought processes).
Once you’ve asked yourself this question, start writing your answers in a notebook or journal, if you have one. If you don’t have a journal, then consider getting one, as they can be extremely beneficial for mental health recovery.
If I asked myself this question, this would be what I’d write:
I’d wake up, and I’d be able to have a meaningful romantic relationship with someone where I could feel love, and which my body wouldn’t sabotage.
That would be my answer to the question because what I want from my treatment is the ability to be in a long-term romantic relationship. My borderline personality disorder causes me to struggle with relationships. And, for over a decade, I avoided being in a relationship. I was incapable of being in a relationship for longer than three months. I didn’t want to hurt the other person for no reason, so this was the best option all around, and I was always honest about that.
I feel love (lust) extremely intensely, but something will happen that will flip that into being extremely disgusted by them touching me. That flipped feeling stays like that until the moment I’m no longer in a relationship with them. I also have a problem with cheating, and I don’t want to be a cheater, which is another reason I avoided being in relationships. I just sort validation from the wrong places, because I could only get that validation from people who weren’t close to me.
Now that you have some therapy goals worked out, you can discuss them with your therapist. Your therapist will then help you flesh out what your therapy goals are and talk about what support you might benefit from. Remember, counselling is very much a two person effort, at least in my therapeutic approach.
You Don’t Need To Know Your Therapy Goals Ahead Of Time
Although this article is about helping you find your therapy goals ahead of time, you don’t have to. My partner has often asked me what they think they should work on before they start a fresh round of therapy. But that’s not for me to answer. Asking yourself the questions that I’ve outlined above can help you determine what you’d like to get from therapy. But as I said, you don’t have to have these goals figured out in advance.
In my years of volunteering and supporting clients with substance dependency and mental health issues, the majority likely don’t really know what they want from therapy. Which is ok. A therapist will work with you to find the difficulties and goals you might want to work on. Sure, it can help if you know this in advance, but it’s perfectly fine to be unsure or not know at all.
I’ve worked with many a client who were having sessions with me because they were struggling, but they didn’t know what they wanted from therapy. In situations like that, you talk and ask questions, building up the therapeutic relationship in the progress. During this process, certain things and patterns will emerge that can then be turned into goals.
Knowing your therapy goals can be helpful for many reasons. If you’re only accessing short-term therapy, which is often the first port of call in the NHS, you’ll only have eight to 12 sessions. Therefore, knowing what you want from the therapy can save valuable time. However, as I’ve already said, it’s also ok not to know. Your therapist will help you figure that out.
In the same way that you can ask yourself questions to determine your therapy goals, you can ask yourself questions about if the therapy is helping. But that’s a discussion for another article.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences of therapy and creating therapy goals in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.