The Dos and Don’ts of Setting Your Psychotherapy Goals



When you enter psychotherapy for the first time, you might not know what to expect from treatment. After all, you haven’t ever worked with a therapist in the past. Initially, your psychologist will complete a diagnostic evaluation with you.  

During this initial assessment, the doctor will ask you questions about the reason for your initiating treatment, symptoms and/or problems you are experiencing, and your goals for treatment. Typically, after this initial assessment, your psychotherapist will have a good idea of what areas to focus on and what reasonable outcome you can expect to achieve for your psychotherapy goals.

Although setting goals for therapy are led by the therapist, you should have an active role as well. There are many ways you can help—and a few that won’t help at all. To that end, let’s consider the Dos and Don’ts of setting goals for Psychotherapy.

The Dos:

  • Enter psychotherapy with a commitment to change, meaning a desire to alter the behavior or parts of your life that don’t work for you or are contributing to your present problem or adverse condition.
  • Be amenable to trying new things, or, in other words, keep an open mind about trying activities you don’t usually do.
  • Have a willingness to challenge your beliefs or self-knowledge. It is most successful to try this in the safe environment of a therapy setting.
  • Decide on specific goals for change for your daily life.
  • Create smaller, progressive milestones in the plan for attaining goals.
  • Sustain an honest and open discussion with the therapist about your challenges and fears felt while working toward the goals for change.


The Don’ts:

  • Silently worry whether your goals for change are realistic; instead discuss concerns with the therapist.
  • Create multiple top priorities for treatment; instead pick a focus and keep it there for the time being. You can always shift focus in the future once you make progress on your top priority.
  • Neglect to be specific about the changes you want to make; instead if you aren’t sure, picture what your life would be like without the condition and use that as a way to be specific in your goal-setting.


When it comes to setting your psychotherapy goals, your therapist will have an idea of what benefits you can expect from treatment. Be sure to have specific goals that you can approach with a commitment to change, and avoid the pitfall of not discussing your concerns throughout treatment with your therapist. Working together, you and your therapist can give your treatment its best possible chance of achieving wellness.