It can be hard to figure out what you want to get out of therapy, especially if you’re seeing a therapist for the first time. However, having clear goals can make a huge difference in the outcome of therapy!
We’ve broken down this tricky question into a five simpler ones. Click here to see these questions in printable worksheet format.
What made you make an appointment?
People often spend a lot of time thinking about seeing a therapist before they actually make an appointment. If you’re one of these people, what changed? Was there one single event, or was it a growing sense that you should try therapy? How long have you been thinking of seeing a therapist?
Make sure to go over your answers with your therapist. This information will help your therapist figure out whether you’ve experienced a traumatic event, or are working with ongoing issues. Different approaches are better for one than the other.
What symptoms are you experiencing?
This is important for your therapist to know. It helps them better understand your current situation. Plus, it allows them to design a treatment plan that will help with these symptoms.
We also know that specific symptoms can be easier to identify than big-picture worries or issues. It's hard to know whether your anxiety about your relationship is healthy or unhealthy. It’s a little easier to recognize that you only slept for 4 hours three out of the past four nights.
What are the top three things that are bothering you right now?
By the time most people make a therapy appointment, they have a laundry list of all the things that are wrong. When you’re already feeling negative emotions, everything can seem difficult. Try to think through which issues are core problems, and which are secondary.
If all your issues seem like core problems, try listing everything out. Next, think through the effect that resolving each issue would have. Would it make a bigger difference to fight less with your partner, or to obsess less over food and exercise? Use this process to rank your list.
It’s common to feel like your conversation is all over the place during your first few therapy appointments. Knowing your core issues helps you feel more focused. It also helps your therapist make sure the two of you stay on target.
What would total success look like to you?
Spoiler alert: therapy won't completely do away with your worries, make you safe from sadness, or silence the siren song of chocolate cake. That said, it’s still useful to think through - and write out - what a “perfect outcome” would look like. For bonus points, circle the two or three aspects of this outcome that are the most important.
Your therapist can help you figure out what outcome is realistic, and how long it might take to get there. In the process, you can agree upon goals for your relationship.
When you talk to friends or family about issues or problems, what helps and what drives you crazy?
We all have some people who we love talking about problems with, and some whose advice we avoid like the plague. Try to think through why this is. Does your mom always try to tell you what to do before she understands what is going on? Does your coworker Mike do a great job of helping you focus on facts instead of getting carried away with emotions?
This can give you a hint about how you like to solve problems. Telling your therapist what works well for you can help you get off to a great start.
These questions will start great conversations with your therapist. That said, don't worry if you don't have answers to all of them! Your goals will change and become clearer over time. Please let us know if this article was helpful by sending us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear about how goal setting went for you.
For a more comprehensive guide on starting therapy, click here.