Setting Therapy Goals in Recovery from Mental Illness

April 14, 2020 Megan Griffith

Making therapy goals is an important part of recovering from mental illness and getting the most out of your therapy experience; but, for a long time, my goals were pretty simple. I just wanted to improve my functioning and reduce my mental illness symptoms. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I'm finally in a place where my functioning level works for my life, and my symptoms of anxiety and depression only pop up every now and again rather than all day, every day. This means now I need to set new therapy goals.

Why Therapy Goals Are Important

In the past, I've resisted setting therapy goals because I've been afraid I would fail to meet them, or because I was so depressed, I couldn't think of anything that mattered enough to set a goal. However, now that I'm in a better headspace, I am excited about setting goals for myself and hopefully reaching them and setting new ones.

Setting goals in therapy gives you a good sense of purpose, but they also serve as a useful progress indicator. If you feel like you aren't making any progress with your goals, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with your therapist. Your therapist may not be meeting your needs, and it may be time to try working with someone different.

3 Tips for Setting Therapy Goals

It can be difficult to set goals for therapy. These tips may be able to help you get started, but if you're still struggling, bring it up with your therapist. They will likely be very happy to help you determine your goals, and sometimes talking it through with someone else is a great way to find out what your goals are.

  1. Identify problematic patterns you'd like to change. Personally, I like to do this through journaling. When I write, patterns become much clearer for me than they would be if I was just thinking in my head. For instance, when I look back over my recent journal entries, it becomes clear that despite being in a healthier place now than I have been in a while, I'm still very concerned about invalidation and need to learn to validate myself and my emotions, so I used that when coming up with my new goals.
  2. Focus less on how you want to feel and more on what you want to do. Our feelings shift and change constantly, and while it's obviously completely okay to want to feel better, you will feel like you're making more significant progress if you focus on what you can do to make that happen. Saying, "I want to feel depressed less often," is vague and doesn't give you any direction for how to accomplish that, but saying, "I want to be able to get out of bed more often," is more concrete and gives you something tangible you can do to feel less depressed.
  3. Prioritize functioning, but make sure to look out for underlying issues as well. For a long time, my goals were all about making sure I could function well enough to keep going to school and hold down a job, and that was incredibly important. However, because of that sole focus on functioning, I didn't deal with a lot of my underlying issues for years, which may have actually made them worse. When setting my new goals, I knew it was time to finally process and resolve some of those buried problems.

My New Therapy Goals

I sort of made up my new therapy goals on the spot when my therapist asked what I wanted to accomplish now that my functioning was so much better, but I think they really are the goals I hope to achieve. My new goals include becoming less emotionally reactive, learning to trust my perceptions and opinions, and developing more self-compassion.

What are your therapy goals? Share them in the comments below.

APA Reference
Griffith, M. (2020, April 14). Setting Therapy Goals in Recovery from Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Megan Griffith

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