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What do you want to get out of therapy?

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. So said American author Earl Nightingale decades ago. This sentiment could not be more important: Setting goals is essential to our efforts to change.

For this reason, your psychologist will ask you “What do you want to get out of coming to therapy?” It’s important that you give some thought to this because having clearly defined goals will improve your odds of changing your behaviour. If your therapist knows exactly what you want from therapy, they can tailor treatment to your goals. More importantly, it means both psychologist and client are on the same page every session.

So what do we mean by ‘clearly defined goal’? 

 Well, we mean that the goal is SMART: Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Timed.

Specific: Is your goal clear? What exactly do you want to accomplish?

Measurable: Can you clearly track your progress?

Achievable: Is this goal realistic and attainable?

Relevant: Is this a worthwhile goal? Is it important to you that you achieve this goal? 

Timed: When do you hope to achieve this goal?

As an example, many clients come to therapy saying they “want to be happier” or “less anxious”. Unfortunately, these aren’t SMART goals because happiness and anxiety mean different things to different people. But we can turn these into SMART goals. We do this by asking “what would you be doing if you were happier?” or “What would life look like if you were less anxious?”. If you were happier/less anxious, would you be socialising with others more? Drinking less? Taking care of yourself? Relaxing? And if being happier means socialising more, what exactly does ‘more’ mean? If being happier means drinking less, what exactly does ‘less’ mean?

 

Using the examples above, SMART goals might be:

I am going to catch up with a friend at least once per week for the next month. 

I am going to set an alarm for 7pm every night and take 10 minutes to sit quietly and meditate.

I am going to go for a 30-minute jog at least 3 days per week for the next 6 weeks. 

I am going to reduce my drinking from half a bottle of wine every night to 1 glass of wine on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 2 glasses of wine on Saturdays. 

These goals are clear and unambiguous plus you can clearly track your progress toward achieving them. Whether or not they are realistic will depend on your starting point. If you are very sedentary then a 30-minute jog might not be realistic: you might want to start with a 30-minute walk instead. 

So there you have it! A brief introduction to SMART goals. If you are about to start therapy, take 10-20 minutes now to write down what you hope to get out of coming. If you aren’t sure, that’s ok! Your therapist can help you define your goals in session. 

Stay tuned for our next blog post on ‘if-then planning’ – a technique that can help you achieve your SMART goals.

Written by Dr Michelle Jongenelis, Clinical Psychologist
Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change, Melbourne School of Psychological Science.

More information

If you would like to learn more about goal setting or to book an appointment with Dr Michelle Jongenelis or another one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

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