How To Determine Personal Goals In Therapy

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While therapy can improve a wide variety of mental health conditions, different disorders and symptoms often require different treatment plans. It can be important to identify your goals in therapy, and from there create a framework of what you want to achieve and improve on with each session.

If a therapist knows a client would like to improve their self-compassion, they may suggest a different therapeutic method or treatment plan than they would a client who would like to address anxieties related to social situations or other mental health conditions. You might consider your relationships with yourself and others, as well as what you want out of life, to determine your personal development goals. Working with a therapist to determine your therapy goals can help you receive corresponding treatment, and one way to connect with a mental health professional who can help you achieve your short or long-term goals may be through online therapy.

Unsure of your personal therapy goals?

Setting goals for therapy

When you’re setting  therapy or treatment goals, it makes sense to think about the areas of your life you’d like to improve, where you would like to see growth, or what you want to achieve. You can start with concrete, actionable goals, like wishing you had a different job or had more time to spend with your friends. Or you could dive into goals related to feelings and emotions, like becoming less angry around conflict or more optimistic in the face of challenges.

It can be important to understand that you don’t need to know your goals in order to begin therapy. A therapist can lead you through a discussion to you to help you determine what you’d like to improve to set goals, or you can begin sessions without specific goals. Over time, you may find that you discover what you’d like to work on and what goals you’d like to obtain.
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Relationships with others

While your relationship with yourself can largely impact the relationships you have with others, your interpersonal reactions should generally still be taken under advisement as you consider various therapy goals. 

  • Do you have trouble connecting with your family or other people who are close to you?
  • How do you feel about getting out in the world and meeting new people?
  • How do you feel before and after social situations?

Many factors can impact the quality of your relationships with others, including stress and anxiety. Through the course of working with a therapist, they will get a sense of your goals and may offer strategies for improving communication and your relationships with others. This may involve working on qualities such as listening skills and empathy, or it could involve finding the confidence to leave toxic relationships.

Life views and goals

One of the simplest ways to identify specific goals can be to think about what you want in life. This could be a tangible item, like a stable home without financial worries, or an intangible desire, such as self-confidence and love from others.

Figuring out what you want in life may take time, and that’s okay. Sitting down with your therapist and talking this out may help certain things surface or bring about new inspiration. Don’t be afraid to ponder this; think about who you are and what you want. Once you know what you want out of life, you can figure out the necessary steps to accomplish your goals. 

Your wants can, and likely will, change over time. That means your goals may also change. By being honest with yourself and your current wants and needs, you can continue to work toward the life you desire and deserve.

Deciding therapy goals as you progress

There can be a misconception that people must know everything they want out of therapy before meeting with their therapist. This is generally not true. It may help to have some therapy goals in mind before your first session, but this doesn’t mean that you must know everything you want before starting therapy.

When you work with a therapist and your counseling relationship becomes stronger, you are likely going to be doing a lot of talking. During this process, your therapist will typically ask questions to understand your situation and figure out how they can help and guide you. As you are going through this process, certain things will likely surface, and you or your therapist may recognize patterns regarding thoughts and emotions. You can then use these patterns to develop therapy goals.

Find out what your goals might be

With that said, even if you don’t know your therapy goals, you can still connect with a therapist. In-person therapy sessions may be one option, and online therapy may be another. Since online therapy typically allows you to meet with your therapist from anywhere with a strong internet connection, you may find it easier to fit into your schedule. Additionally, if you find you don’t connect with one therapist, you can easily connect with another who you may feel more comfortable with.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Unsure of your personal therapy goals?

If you’re wondering if online therapy is as effective as traditional therapy, you’re not alone. In the past decade, multiple studies have been conducted to compare online and in-person therapy. Results suggest that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional therapy, and it can improve symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and more.


While you don’t need to have specific goals in mind to begin therapy, setting goals can help you think about and achieve what you’d like. Goal-setting often takes place with the help of a therapist, so don’t worry if you feel like you need some guidance to determine the right goals for you. You may also consider your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others, and what you want in life in order to discover goals that resonate with you. Creating goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) can set you up for success. If you’d like to work with a licensed therapist to achieve your goals, don’t hesitate to reach out for help in person or online.

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