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Important Goals For Therapists To Consider

September 1, 2023


A smiling nurse attentively assists an elderly man seated in a wheelchair providing compassionate support and therapeutic care

For therapists, goal setting can be a fundamental component of the therapeutic process as well as a crucial aspect of professional development. Setting and modifying goals throughout the treatment process can provide a roadmap to guide both the therapist and the patient toward a desired outcome. These objectives can offer a clear sense of direction and may help to facilitate a unified effort in therapy.

According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, creating and working toward goals in therapy can support positive outcomes in the therapeutic setting. Goal setting can encourage and empower clients by giving them hope while also directing both the therapist’s and client’s attention to a similar outcome. Goals can be useful for therapists by ensuring that their approach is relevant to the client’s needs and that treatment is progressing in a positive direction.

A well-defined treatment plan not only helps track progress but can also empower the patient by making them an active participant in their own healing journey. This level of engagement can foster accountability, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of goals therapists might set for their patients to significantly enhance the efficacy of therapy. 

Types Of Goals To Consider When Working With New Clients

One of the main goals of psychotherapy can be facilitating positive change and improving an individual’s ability to adapt to the challenges of life in a healthy way. Setting smart goals prior to working with a client and in the early stages of treatment may help to establish a strong therapeutic alliance and expedite clients’ progress. 

Some important types of goals therapists may want to consider include:

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Exploratory Goals

When working with a new client, therapists may consider setting exploratory goals in early counseling sessions to understand the client’s unique experiences, concerns, and perspectives on a deeper level. This initial phase may involve getting to know the individual’s current reality and mental state while also identifying fundamental feelings, past experiences, or patterns of behavior that may be contributing to their current experience. 

Exploratory goals may help solidify a strong therapeutic alliance, acting as a shared commitment between the therapist and the client. This can allow patients to be more comfortable and vulnerable as they delve deeper into their inner world. This collaborative process not only provides a sense of direction but can also strengthen the bond of trust, fostering a supportive environment conducive to healing.

One example of an exploratory goal in therapy might be to explore the root cause of a client’s persistent feeling of dissatisfaction despite having a seemingly successful life. Therapists may keep this goal in mind as they guide the individual through a process of introspection, helping them delve into their past experiences, perceptions, and potential unmet needs. 

Exploratory goals can often serve as stepping stones that fuel growth, enabling individuals to uncover their potential, confront their fears, and embrace change. 

Actionable Goals

Actionable goals involve developing specific strategies and steps to help clients manage and overcome various obstacles. This can range from cognitive-behavioral techniques for coping with anxiety to exposure therapy for overcoming fears. Actionable goals can provide a clear path forward with measurable steps to track progress over time.

Creating actionable goals in therapy often encompasses practices such as self-care and the celebration of small victories. It can be crucial for these objectives to be realistic, as unobtainable goals may only discourage a patient and keep them from taking further action in their lives.  

Actionable goals may involve self-care activities that promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This could include practices such as eating a balanced diet, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, branching out socially, or regularly engaging in physical exercise. 

In a recent study, researchers explored the effect of gratitude and the celebration of small victories on mental health outcomes in therapy. They discovered that consciously practicing gratitude could effectively reduce stress and anxiety while boosting self-esteem and mood.

Therapists may consider setting goals that focus on helping clients recognize the positive strides they’re making, no matter how minor they may seem. For instance, completing a work task on time, speaking up in a meeting, or attending a workout class may be considered significant progress depending on the patient. Maintaining a focus on actionable, manageable goals can lead to substantial improvements in an individual’s day-to-day life and over the long term.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals can also be vital to consider when crafting or adjusting a client’s treatment plan. These goals can serve as a guiding light for the therapeutic process, providing an overarching direction in which to move and accentuating the areas the therapist may want to focus on. Long-term goals may be broader in nature and could include improving overall mental well-being, building resilience, or achieving a healthier work-life balance.

By setting clear long-term goals, therapists and clients can stay focused on the bigger picture while also celebrating smaller victories achieved along the way. As treatment progresses and progress is made, long-term goals may need to be modified to ensure the patient receives the most out of therapy.

Helping clients understand the value of long-term goals can be a pivotal aspect of effective therapy. These goals often center around significant life changes that require time, effort, and persistence. Moreover, combining these long-term goals with short-term, actionable goals can effectively create a holistic treatment plan that is both achievable and fulfilling. 

Once long-term goals have been established, therapists may be more equipped to create relevant short-term goals that provide clients with immediate, attainable objectives to enhance their confidence and reinforce their commitment to the therapeutic journey. This blend of short- and long-term goals in therapy can foster a sense of accomplishment and forward motion, cultivating a proactive and empowering experience for the patient. 

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The Role Of Online Therapy In Improving Mental Health Treatment

Whether therapists choose to meet with clients in person or online, goal setting can play a crucial aspect in the therapeutic process. Virtual platforms like BetterHelp offer services that help therapists provide mental health support to a wide variety of individuals in need. Those who have limited access to mental health care due to geographic location, physical disabilities, or even anxiety or fear relating to in-person sessions may find online therapy to be more convenient and accessible.  

Online therapy sessions can bolster personal development for both therapists and clients. It offers therapists the opportunity to adapt and engage with various digital tools, enhancing their versatility and ability to organize their goals. For clients, the convenience and accessibility of online therapy can help foster a strong therapeutic relationship, a crucial factor in successful therapeutic outcomes. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy 

In one study, researchers investigated the effectiveness of online therapy in addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They found that online therapy effectively reduced psychological distress related to depression, interpersonal sensitivity, and anxiety. 

These outcomes underscore the potential of online therapy to help clients achieve their mental health goals. The convenience and comfort provided by virtual therapy may help enhance engagement and commitment between therapist and client, paving the way for more achievable goals and successful outcomes in therapy.


Establishing goals for therapy can play a pivotal role in the therapeutic relationship and the outcomes achieved in sessions. By setting achievable short- and long-term goals, therapists can provide a clear pathway for clients, fostering a sense of direction and purpose. These goals can act as beacons that help guide individuals through the complexities of their unique mental health journeys. Goal setting can instill a sense of accountability in both the client and therapist, ensuring each is doing their part to achieve positive outcomes in therapy. Additionally, therapists who practice goal setting may find that it gives them a tangible method for organizing their treatment strategies more effectively over time. As goals are achieved, both client and therapist may feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, propelling each of them forward toward further growth and progress.