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  • Suzy Colson

Goal setting in therapy

As a CBT therapist, one thing that can often flummox people is the notion of setting therapy goals. The most common response is "to feel better" or to "feel happy" which of course is why people come to therapy. My clients are their own expert in knowing when they feel sadness and equally when they feel happy.


Setting goals in CBT is key for growth, direction and making changes. Me as the therapist needs to know what happiness for you would look like, what would I see if you were happy. Put another way, what are you not doing that in the past has been associated with a feeling of happiness. Will you be seeing people, back at work, exercising again. There are many subjective things that make us happy, and what causes happiness for some will not be the same for others. Goals ought to be a "To be able to" rather than "I won't be.."


Setting SMART goals can often be a good place to start.

S - Specific - what do you want; a detailed account of what life might look like if I was feeling better

M - Measurable - how will we know if we have met the goal, how can we measure it

A - Achievable - winning the lottery would be great wouldn't it, but actually is this achievable and something to work towards, unlikely. Lets find something that we know we can gradually achieve.

R - Realistic - if you are working full time with a family, 3 dogs 3 cats, grandma to look after, we need to be realistic about what is the first few steps for you. Something that is unrealistic is unlikely to be helpful, and actually could hinder the start to making changes.

T - Timely - can we put a time on it. Can we agree on when these goals could be attained by...this can be flexible of course and all governed by a sensible pace.


Goals are important, but of course not everything. Sometimes life happens, things that we cannot plan for and our goals are sometimes halted for short times or interrupted. That's ok, we set them for a reason and we go back to them. Goals aren't keeping you under lock and key however they are set between myself and clients in order for me to understand where you want to be headed. I hope this clarifies the often scared and blank looking faces when I ask for a bit more padding around wanting to feel better!

#goals #therapy




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