In a formal and/or informal way therapist and client begin therapy by setting goals for therapy. These goals fall into one or more of these six categories:
- Crisis Management / Stabilization – e.g. A spouse has an affair, and the couple is faced with immediate issues of trust and betrayal before deciding whether or not to continue the relationship and confront the process of healing, re-committing, and re-gaining intimacy.
- Development of Coping Strategies to Handle Future Problems – This is akin to prevention, e.g. After a long struggle with depression a woman is feeling better with medication, but wants to learn skills to deal with environmental stressors that might trigger depression in the future.
- Long-term Pattern / Personality Change – e.g. A man is repeatedly unable to sustain relationships with women due to his fear of intimacy/vulnerability related to his family of origin dynamics.
- Symptom Reduction – e.g. A woman has been highly anxious for many months leading to a lack of productivity at work and social withdrawal, or a man wants anger management strategies to help express feelings more constructively.
- Self-examination – e.g. Someone who wants to understand him/herself more, either as a continuation of previous therapy or comes into first-time therapy with this as the initial goal. Or a gay man has recently “come out” at work, experiencing conflicted feelings about doing so and wants to understand his inner struggle.
- Prevention of Relapse / Stabilization / Maintenance – e.g. A person with chronic, painful medical condition seeks a “supportive” therapy, focusing on optimal daily functioning. Or someone has recently begun recovery from an alcohol, drug, or behavioral addiction, and wants to learn skills to prevent sliding back into the addiction.
These goals are not mutually exclusive. More often than not, one goal will morph in another, e.g. crisis management quickly turns into development of coping strategies, which evolves into long-term pattern change, yet again transforming into self-exploration. When this happens it is a good sign that therapy is working, evidenced by the organic changing of the client’s needs.