Goals in Therapy

February 15th, 2010

I’ve been reading a book by Glen O. Gabbard where he outlines some of the goals we work on in psychotherapy. Gabbard is a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and a respected writer in the field of psychodynamic therapy. Below I elaborate on some of his outline in my own language.

Just as each person is unique, so are his/her goals in therapy. So this list is more of a guideline than a prescription. Ideally, a therapist and client work together to figure out the right goals, and they can change over time. Gabbard’s outline helps us think about the overall process of therapy and some of its unique benefits.

Resolving inner conflicts

We all have inner conflicts — parts of ourselves that want different things. For example, one part of us may want a relationship (i.e. love and companionship), while another part doesn’t want to feel tied down. One part of us may want a promotion at work, while another part doesn’t want the new responsibilities. These kinds of conflicts naturally bring up anxiety. In therapy, we can explore and identify these inner wranglings and resolve some of the anxiety. Often we’re not even aware of our mixed feelings until we talk about them. Then we can make more effective and adaptive choices.

Knowing yourself

Therapy is an opportunity to take one hour out of the week and get to know yourself better. Discover more deeply how you think and feel and why certain patterns appear in your life. This is the difference between knowing who you really are, instead of who you’re supposed to be. As Gabbard says, “The outcome of therapy should result in feelings of ‘living in one’s own skin’ and of being authentic.”

Making good relationship choices

We all need people and relationships in our lives. This is about choosing people who treat us well, who we enjoy being with, and who will support our deepest goals and aspirations.

Being self-responsible

It’s easy to blame relationship problems on other people. This is about knowing our own sensitivities and taking responsibility for them. Therapy provides a unique space to learn about our relationship patterns, which may arise in the therapy relationship itself.

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