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How to Identify Your Goals for Therapy

Most of the time the questions that therapists ask at the first session are a little tough to answer because often we're starting therapy because we're at a bit of a loss about how to solve the problems we have. Often our depression or anxiety are intense enough that we are a little bit scared to even try to figure out what we're feeling. If that's you, you're not alone and this post is here to help!

Beside a lot of the legal stuff and information you need to make informed choices about what you say, therapists tend to ask you some iteration of: "If you woke up tomorrow and therapy miraculously worked in the way you wanted it to after just one session, what would concretely be different about your life?" What the therapist is really asking is, what do you want to change about your experience in life? This could be concrete behaviors like overeating, being argumentative with my partner, road rage, etc. This can also be emotions or thoughts such as: hopelessness, lack of motivation, deep sadness or depression, feeling suicidal, anxiety in social situations, etc. None of those are wrong, but they often have one things in common - they are focused on what challenges you face in the present. Not the past, not the future, but the present.

You may have experienced traumatic things, you may have been in an unhealthy relationship, you may have had abusive parents, and all of those things are (of course) really important in terms of us understanding your history and your background. That being said, all of those experiences affect people differently and so as therapists we want to understand what challenges you have at present that have caused you to seek therapy. Once we know what problems are expressing for you now, we can begin working to identify it's source or cause and help develop solutions with you. We don't start from a position of assuming we know what experiences have caused present what issues at present because research says that doesn't work well when therapists do that.

So here are some great questions and some great steps for determining what you want help with in therapy-


  1. If, for a moment, I ignored what changes I believe are possible in my life, what would I ideally want to be different about myself or my life?

  2. What are specific behaviors, feelings, or thoughts that I want to change? (ex: I always doubt myself when meeting new people, OR I never really know how I'm feeling - other people seem to know before I do)

  3. If I was able to become my ideal version of myself, what things would I notice had changed?

  4. What will others (parents, partner, etc) notice has changed that makes them aware that you are different or better?

  5. What would you do with yourself and your life if you knew you could not fail?


  1. Write out a list of all the emotions or behaviors you would want to change after the questions above

  2. Reorganize the list in order of priority

  3. For the top 3 items on the list, think of a specific instance for each of those 3 items where you experienced that symptom as a example to share with the therapist

  4. Bring this list to therapy or send it to your therapist

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