By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
More and more people are seeking out therapy, which is great news for everyone. With greater awareness and experience, it is more and more possible for effective progress to be made within the session. The more people I work with, the more I find that they are coming in to therapy with their own goals in mind, or at the very least a focus point.
Coming in to therapy with a goal can be incredibly beneficial for you and your therapist. Yes, your goals may change; in fact, the best therapy will adapt to your specific needs and thus your goals will change over time.
We are all looking for an improvement in our lives and coming to a place where you gain mental health knowledge, insight, and skills already indicates a major step in your willingness to change. This change will look differently for everyone, and your goals will be as unique as you are. Your goals indicate your values, and they bring your individuality and belief in yourself to the room from the get-go.
A goal in therapy is unique from other kinds of goals in your life.
For example, productivity in work is based on a set of measurable benchmarks set by your supervisor or manager. You're evaluated based on their opinion of your work or on the data your work provides, such as sales or product created. Unless you're in a role with more freedom or autonomy, you might not be included in the creation of your goals. Most of the time, there is a certain kind of "finish line" or "deadline" for a project. You will know when it ends.
Your goals in therapy are developed in collaboration. Your therapist is listening to your needs, feelings, difficulties, and strengths and creating a plan with you to tackle the obstacles you encounter along the way. The "benchmarks" you might have in your career are external; the "benchmarks" in therapy are internal, based on your experiences. As you learn about your emotions, your brain, and skills to apply, you'll find that awareness will bring new challenges as well as improvements.
The beautiful and sometimes frustrating thing about therapy is that the "finish line" is a fluid concept. We can feel very accomplished, changed, and enlightened after even a handful of therapy sessions, if we are putting in the work and ready for the transformation. But when might we feel finished, or satisfied, or willing to step back out into the world without a regular appointment?
Again, that comes with collaboration and it looks different for every person. You may feel significant improvements in your daily moods or your communication in your day-to-day life has become manageable. Your therapist, with your best interests in mind, can sense when it may be time for you to transition into fewer sessions or close sessions entirely. Good therapy empowers us to take charge of our own journey.