A Guide to Setting Goals in Therapy

Wednesday, September 13 2023

Therapy can be a powerful and life-changing experience, but if you’re not familiar with it, it can be an intimidating and overwhelming process. Understanding the role of goal setting in therapy can help you feel more empowered, focused, and in control of your therapeutic journey. In this blog post, we’ll help you understand the importance of goal setting therapy, the benefits of goal setting, examples of goals in therapy, and tips on how to set your own effective therapy goals.

If you’re looking to start therapy and not sure how to approach thinking about and setting your goals, SonderMind can help. Our licensed therapists can assess your unique situation and help you identify goals and a plan of action to work toward those goals. Connect with a SonderMind therapist today and start working toward your goals. 

Understanding the role of goal setting in therapy

Goals in therapy provide direction and a sense of progress. They help you and your therapist work collaboratively towards specific, measurable, and achievable outcomes. When you have goals in therapy, you are more engaged in the therapeutic process and have a clearer idea of what you’re working towards. Goals in therapy can also help you feel more empowered as you achieve incremental and overall goals. Every therapy journey is different — that’s why your individual goals may be different from someone else’s.

At SonderMind, therapists use clinical questionnaires (CQs) to measure your progress toward reaching your goals in therapy. Clinical questionnaires have you answer questions about a range of topics like symptoms, day-to-day functioning, and the relationship between you and your therapist. At SonderMind, CQs are built right into your portal, making it easy for you to share how you’re doing and collaborate with your therapist about your care.

Why are goals in therapy important?

When you first begin therapy, you’ll talk to your therapist about your symptoms, parts of your background, how you feel your life is going currently, and why you’ve decided to start therapy. You’ll also discuss what you ultimately want to get out of therapy — your “end goal.” Some end goals take longer to achieve than others, and therefore can play a role in determining how long you’re in therapy. No end goal is too big or too small, and it’s okay if it takes a good amount of time to reach it. 

The severity of your symptoms or issues you’re looking to resolve in your life may also determine how long you’re in therapy. Some people are interested in focusing on a specific issue in therapy, on a more short-term basis. Others may look to therapy sessions as a space to work through problems on a more long-term basis. What you want to focus on in therapy is entirely up to you. What matters most is that you feel you’re getting the support you need to feel better and reach your end goal. Goal setting can help you:

Improve engagement in the therapeutic process

When it comes to therapy or any sort of personal growth journey, it's important to stay engaged in the process. Setting goals can help you do just that. Goals give you something tangible and achievable to work towards, which makes it easier for you to stay focused and motivated.

It's also a great way to hold yourself accountable. Once you've set a goal or several smaller goals, you and your therapist can create a plan of action and your therapist will help you stay committed to it. Having an end result in sight can help keep you on track and encourage you to stay engaged in your therapeutic process. Your therapist will be there to guide you throughout your journey. 

Define progress

Defining progress is critical when it comes to personal growth and achieving your goals. But it's not always easy, especially when it comes to therapy.

That's where goal setting can help. Goal setting provides clarity by breaking down your goals into smaller, more achievable steps and milestones that you can work towards over time. This makes it easier to define progress so that you can measure your success as you go or flag if you’re running into any setbacks so that your therapist can help you get back on track. It also gives you a roadmap so you can stay on track and keep making progress towards your end goal. 

Empower you to achieve your goals

Achieving goals can be hard work, but it's one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Goal setting in therapy allows you to take an active role in your treatment,  and together with your therapist, work towards meaningful change. It also helps you and your therapist  to monitor your progress and make adjustments to your treatment plan as necessary.

With your therapist guiding the way, this can help give you the self-confidence and motivation you need to accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself. Remember that like in any relationship, whether personal or professional, open communication is important. It helps you establish boundaries, express your wishes, and lets you know how the other side feels. When you’re in therapy, it’s just like being in a relationship. It’s important to have that open communication with your therapist. So speak up and be open with your therapist about the goals you want to achieve in therapy. 

Examples of goals in therapy

People seek therapy for many different reasons. It could be to cope with everyday stress or to improve a relationship. It could be to deal with harmful habits or serious mental health conditions. When it comes to therapy, no problem is too big or too small. If you find it difficult to begin a conversation with your therapist about your goals, here are some tips for conversation starters

Some high-level examples of goals in therapy include those for personal growth, emotional well-being, relationship improvement, or behavioral goals. 

Personal growth

Some people seek therapy to enhance their personal growth, whether it’s to increase self-confidence and assertiveness or to identify and challenge negative self-talk. Some people might see personal growth as the ability to cultivate a greater sense of self-compassion. Whatever personal growth goals you might have, a therapist can help you form a plan to achieve those goals. 

Emotional well-being

Some people seek therapy to address and manage symptoms of depression or anxiety. They may also seek therapy to develop effective coping mechanisms for stress or to learn to regulate emotional responses. 


People may also seek therapy with the goal of improving their relationships. It could range from improving communication skills with partners or family, developing greater intimacy in romantic relationships, or to establish healthy boundaries with friends or colleagues.

Behavioral changes

Others seek therapy with goals to change specific behaviors. For example, you might have a specific phobia, such as a fear of flying or snakes, that you want to overcome. Or, you may be struggling with substance abuse or addictive behaviors that you want to reduce. Therapy can also help people change negative lifestyle patterns like procrastination or emotional eating.

Tips for setting goals in therapy 

When it comes to setting goals in therapy, think of your goals as SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

1. Be specific

It’s important to be specific about what it is that you want to achieve. Vague goals like “be happier” or “reduce anxiety” are not as effective as specific goals like “meditate for 10 minutes each day” or “go for a 30-minute walk three times a week.”

2. Make it measurable

Goals should be measurable, so you can track your progress along the way. Measurable goals should include specific numbers, like “smoke one less cigarette each day” or “attend two social events this month.”

3. Make it achievable

Goals should be realistic and achievable. This doesn’t mean you should set easy goals for yourself, but rather goals that push you just beyond your comfort zone.

4. Be realistic

Goals can change throughout the therapeutic process. Be open to revisiting your goals and adjusting them as needed to align with your changing needs.

5. Make it time-bound

Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to achieve your goals. Make long-term goals into smaller goals that you can achieve over a shorter period of time. 

SonderMind can help you get started with goal setting in therapy

Goal setting is an essential aspect of therapy. It provides direction, helps in measuring progress, and engages you in the therapeutic process. Effective goals set in therapy should be specific, measurable, achievable, and flexible. 

A licensed therapist from SonderMind can work with you to assess your symptoms, understand your goals, and create an action plan to help you achieve those goals.  There’s no right or wrong time frame for therapy. Everyone’s journey is different, and what’s important is getting the help and support you need to overcome mental health challenges and reach the therapy goals you set.

Start working on your goals today with the help of a SonderMind therapist.

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