Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a goal oriented therapy. This means that during your initial session(s), you and your therapist will work together to clarify what your specific goals are for therapy. Throughout your sessions, you will review these regularly to see whether your therapy is helping you to get closer to these goals, or whether through this process your goals have shifted or changed. Your therapist may also encourage you to complete some questionnaires to help you to see your progress more objectively.
When setting goals, it is essential that they are realistic and achievable. We often use the acronym SMART to help guide us with setting goals, to ensure that they are:
It is important that your goals are specific so that you will know if you have achieved them or what might be making this difficult. You may have a goal to be ‘happier’, but what would this look like? How would you know that you had achieved this? What would you be doing that was different to now? What would have changed internally (e.g. thoughts, feelings)? What would other people who know you notice?
If we make our gaols specific, we can ensure that they are also measurable. For example, if I were to be less depressed, I would be going for a walk every day, have a wash every day and cook myself one nutritious meal a day.
It is important that we set goals that are achievable. This does not mean that we cannot achieve huge goals, but quite often, we need small and achievable goals in order to reach where we ultimately want to be. If you have suffered with anxiety all of your life and struggle with public speaking, setting a goal of speaking at a conference in the next 3 months may be quite hard and actually demotivating. However, if your initial goal is to lead a presentation in a small team meeting then that may be more achievable in the time that you have….and once you have achieved that goal, you can move on to the next one.
So as mentioned above, it works better if goals can be more realistic. Do you have the resources available to you to achieve this goal? For example, if you would like to overcome a fear of flying, do you have the resources to take a flight in the near future that will help you to work towards these goals?
In order to maintain momentum and focus, it can be very helpful to have time limited goals. It is very easy to allow things to drift if we do not set a specific timeframe on it, so having a date in mind that you would want to achieve your goal by is beneficial.
The thing to remember is to try and not be too disheartened if you do not reach your goal within the time you have set for it. This is a time to review, reflect and to make some changes where needed. Maybe the goal wasn’t specific enough or maybe on reflection it wasn’t achievable because there weren’t the resources available to you. Maybe other unexpected life events got in the way – there are many things that can be out of our control. Or maybe this goal actually has become less important to you and through this process you have discovered something that is much more aligned with your own values and hopes.
Whatever the outcome, it is an opportunity to think, take stock and refine what you would like to work on next.