Christmas cards are in the mail and a new year is around the corner. The timing is prime for personal reflection or the annual “year in review.” Even social media is in on the phenomena with links to viral family Christmas videos and comprehensive lists of your most important posts.
If you value progress and growth, taking stock of where you’ve been and where you hope to go can be really helpful. I’m not talking about how you measure up against others, but how you measure up against YOURSELF—your own hopes and dreams for where you’d be at this point in your life.
We don’t speculate about that too often; since life is coming at us fast and each day is full of responsibilities, we aren’t allowed to pause. Sifting through the photos from the previous year might inspire some internal consideration. Or maybe it’s the New Year that prompts some goal setting for you.
Goals IN Psychotherapy
Sitting down in a psychotherapy office provides the perfect backdrop for this. That 50-minute session often allows the space a person needs to figure out what they’d like to change about their situation and identify the steps toward achieving that change.
New clients often experience some relief right away. There are many reasons for this, including the catharsis that comes from being free to air your personal story (without a follow-up story from others), or the feeling of empowerment that comes from finally finding some time to dedicate to self-improvement.
Then there are the changes that follow those initial meetings. Established research studies show evidence that people typically show improvement within 10-20 sessions (Schnyder, 2009).
Of course there are variations, depending on personal preference, what you are seeking treatment for, and how long you’ve waited to seek help (early intervention may move more quickly).
But a good psychotherapist should be asking you for regular feedback about how you think things are going and coordinating the pace and experience of sessions with your own personal style.
While this can be done verbally, there’s also some tracking tools that help you visualize your progress towards your goals—similar to the idea of a workout or food diary.
Goals FOR Psychotherapy
Some helpful tools to assist with that process of reflection include a mutually-agreed-upon treatment plan with your therapist, and inventories or assessments you fill out from time to time.
These may be a paper form you fill out yourself, or an interview you do with your therapist. When you start treatment you might have done some kind of structured diagnostic interview. Or, if you didn’t, you can request something like this so you have a “baseline” for your experience. This is a point of reference to see what changes as you engage in therapy.
The counselor might be utilizing structured diagnostic interviews like the “Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale,” the “Symptom Checklist-90-R,” the “Beck Depression Inventory,” the “Beck Anxiety Inventory,” or others. There are many options depending on what’s going on in your particular situation.
After a certain number of sessions you can measure your reported symptoms with the same assessment tool to see if there’s been a reduction in what you originally sought treatment for.
Your therapist might have even created their own assessment, which may ask you to rate on a scale of 1-10 how you are functioning in several areas of your life, where your symptoms stand, and even how you rate your connection with your therapist (this is often a key component to change for a person).
Don’t be shy with your answers. These tools are for your personal medical file and will only help inform your treatment and empower you to understand exactly what’s occurring in the health care you are receiving. Measurement and reflection can be powerful tools and motivators for change.
Schnyder, U (2009). Future perspectives in psychotherapy. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 259, Suppl 2:S123-S128.
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