A lot of people are starting therapy these days. That’s great! But many don’t know where to start when it comes to getting the most out of their time in psychotherapy. This is when you might be asking yourself “what are the goals of psychotherapy?” That’s where setting goals comes in.
But, what even are goals of psychotherapy?
They can be anything you want! Figuring them out tends to be the more challenging piece. When a client comes in unsure of their goals for therapy, I usually ask:
“What changes would you like to see in your life over the next few months?”
Most people decide to start psychotherapy because things aren’t going exactly the way they would like. Maybe your job is stressful and you want better work-life balance, maybe you are struggling to communicate in your relationship, or sometimes, things just feel off.
These are all valid reasons to start therapy. With that in mind, these are the 5 general goals I tell my clients to think about in the early stages of psychotherapy.
Goal of Psychotherapy #1: Learn About Yourself
Knowing yourself may seem obvious, after all, you’ve spent more time with yourself than anyone else!
However, being so close to anything often creates blind spots. We are so used to ourselves that sometimes having a third party (aka your therapist) to help explore those automatic patterns can be super helpful in learning things about yourself you didn’t realize were there!
Common blind spots we see as therapists are:
- Critical self-talk (“I can’t believe I did that, I’m such an idiot.”)
- Unhelpful or unhealthy communication patterns
- Automatic ways of viewing things (aka jumping to conclusions)
- Being “stuck” in behavior patterns but not seeing a way out
- People-pleasing or difficulty setting boundaries
- How childhood experiences or past trauma are affecting current behavior
- Emotions controlling life choices
- Avoidance of difficult or uncomfortable situations
- “Mind-reading” without communicating
Learning more about yourself and your automatic patterns in therapy is the first step towards making healthy changes and achieving the rest of your goals.
Goal of Psychotherapy #2: Find Strategies that Work
OK, so you’re learning about yourself in therapy and realize there are a few areas that could be different. What do you do about it? Your therapist can teach you strategies to better cope with whatever has been bothering you. Skills you could work on include:
- Emotion regulation skills
- Grounding and mindfulness exercises
- Improved communication skills
- Behavioral changes
- Real self-care (no, we don’t mean pedicures)
- Productivity hacks
- Setting and sticking to healthy habits
We work with our clients on everything from expressing their anger in a healthy way to dunking your face in a bucket of ice water (literally) when things are just too much. Sometimes we just need to chill.
Other things we may work on are how to build motivation, start (or stop) a habit, increase your productivity while avoiding burnout, and generally streamline your life.
Goal of Psychotherapy #3: Build a Relationship With Your Therapist
This piece isn’t talked about enough, and yet it can be one of the most powerful aspects of psychotherapy. The relationship between a therapist and client is unique in that it tends to be pretty one-sided (although you will meet my cats when they join our video call).
However, the therapist is an ideal person to practice those situations that you may struggle with in your relationships in the real world. We’re great at role-playing real-life situations.
Have a difficult conversation coming up with a boss or family member? We will pretend to be them and run through every possible scenario so you are emotionally and thoughtfully prepared.
Any good therapist will also be open (and even excited) to talk about your relationship.
Did we do or say something that bothered you? Great! Tell us, and let’s work it out and practice those communication skills. Next time a conflict comes up with a friend, co-worker, or partner, you’re ready to handle it because we did it here first.
We deeply care about how our relationship in therapy affects you on your path wellness and want to do our best to make sure it is a healthy and positive one.
Goal of Psychotherapy #4: Gain Perspective
So you’re learning about yourself, practicing new skills, and forming a solid relationship with your therapist. With these things in place, you are likely able to take a better perspective of your past, current day-to-day situations, and what you want for your future.
How perspective taking shows up through psychotherapy:
In the past: They say everything is clearer in hindsight. That might be true, but hindsight and psychotherapy can have you seeing what was previously hidden by unconscious patterns and behavior and allow you to step into another person’s shoes.
You’ll be able to understand why you did what you did/said what you said/felt what you felt, or at least understand what contributed to those situations in the past. You’ll also be able to see things from the other person’s point of view to understand what contributed to confusion or hurt feelings.
Ideally, this will help you increase your compassion towards yourself and others as human beings who make mistakes (a lot).
Right now: This is where it gets fun. Being able to see how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect yourself and those around you in-the-moment is not always easy (or fun). But with practice, it becomes second nature and strengthens that ability to make split-second decisions to change those patterns.
In the future: A lot of us get caught up in worrying about the future, or stuck thinking about the past.While it can be useful to learn from the past and perspective-take, we don’t want to stay there. We also don’t want to only think about the future, because it’s pretty hard to get there!
Perspective-taking towards the future is useful in thinking about what you value and what you want to get out of life. That way, you can set goals for yourself that are in line with your personal values and move towards a more purposeful life, while still being able to experience the present.
Goal of Psychotherapy #5: Feel Better
It’s that basic. The number one goal of psychotherapy is for you to feel better, and hopefully, not need us anymore. In other words, reach a point of recovery. Recovery means that you’ve improved despite setbacks.
And trust, there will be setbacks.
Psychotherapy is not always easy, sometimes sessions are hard. But that’s why there’s a therapist, to help guide and support you through those difficult spots. Therapists know that the work can be tough, and maybe you’ve even been avoiding therapy because of that.
That’s OK. So much of the work is just showing up.
There is a reason you’re seeking help, and if whatever that is gets even a little better, you’re on the right track in therapy.
What goal of psychotherapy are you most excited to set? Let us know in the comments below.