How To Determine Therapy Goals That Are Right For You

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While therapy can improve a wide variety of mental health issues, different disorders and symptoms often require different treatment plans. If a therapist knows a client would like to improve their self-compassion, they may suggest a different therapeutic method than they would a client who would like to address anxieties related to social situations. You might consider your relationships with yourself and others, as well as what you want out of life, to determine your goals. Following the SMART Goal model by creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound can also be helpful. 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 goals may be through online therapy.

Setting Goals For Therapy

Unsure Of Your Personal Therapy Goals?

When you’re setting a therapy goal, you’ll generally want to think about the areas of your life you’d like to improve. You can start with concrete items, 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 work with you to help you determine what you’d like to improve, 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.

When you’re setting goals, you can use the acronym SMART to assess whether they are appropriate. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.


Rather than saying you want to “feel better,” you may say you wish to feel less anxious in social situations at work or hope to go on one date each month with an open mind.


Quantitative variables generally allow you to track your progress. For example, rather than saying you want to feel “less anxious” in social situations, which can be rather ambiguous, you might aim to practice relaxation techniques in social situations two times a week. Alternatively, you might regularly rate your anxiety in various social situations on a scale from one to 10 in order to measure whether your anxiety symptoms are decreasing.


Rather than setting one large goal, it can be better to set smaller goals that are more achievable. You may always add additional goals later on.


You should generally care about and want to attain your goal. If you are not motivated to achieve your goal, it can be unlikely it will happen.


It can be best to specify a timeframe in which you hope to reach your goal. This could include completing a certain task for ten minutes each day for three weeks, or it could involve reaching a certain goal by a predetermined date.

Approach Vs. Avoidance Goals

It’s often helpful to understand the differences between approach and avoidance goals. Approach goals generally involve working toward a belief or action. Some examples can include, “I want to develop more confidence in social situations,” and “I want to listen to others with an open mind.” 

Avoidance goals usually focus on eliminating or avoiding certain situations or feelings. Examples may include, “I want to feel less anxious in social situations,” and “I want to stop reacting to others with harsh judgment.” 

One study reports that framing goals so they fit the approach model may result in increased symptomatic improvement in therapy. However, approach goals are not necessarily better. Another source suggests that the desirability and feasibility of these goals can also play a role in whether avoidance or approach goals will most benefit well-being.

Consider Your Relationship With Yourself

Although it can be tough to review your life and think of ways you can improve, sitting down and evaluating your relationship with yourself can help you establish where you’d like to change.

Your relationship with yourself usually involves your levels of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-compassion. If you’re not sure where you stand in your relationship with yourself, you can begin by reflecting on a few questions. 

  • When you are by yourself, how do you feel?

  • How do you react in response to failures and challenges?

  • What do you think are your best and worst qualities?

  • How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished in life?

  • Do you believe that you are worthy of the best in life?

If you find that you are treating yourself harshly or engaging in negative self-talk, you may find that your therapy goals could involve being kinder and more compassionate towards yourself. 

Consider Your 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. Improving your relationships with others may involve working on qualities such as listening skills and empathy, or it could involve finding the confidence to leave toxic relationships.

Think About What You Want In Life

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.

You May Not Know All Of Your Therapy Goals Ahead Of Time

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, 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.

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.

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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