“So, what do you want to focus on today?”
This seemingly innocuous line is possibly the most important line in therapy.
People come into a therapist’s office for different reasons. Some come in to face their overwhelming anxiety, their self-esteem, or their depression. Many find themselves on my couch to work through contentious and painful relationship issues. There are those who struggle with the day-to-day of life, and need a place to air things out and put pieces together without pressure or judgement.
In all these cases, the line above is an invitation. It’s an invitation to be self-directed, to go at your own pace, and to decide for yourself how to address things. That’s what therapy is, and that’s what makes therapy work. It’s the ability to look at your life and say, “This is what I want to happen.”
This is true on more than just a session-by-session basis. An important part of therapy, one which gives you a sense of actual progress, instead of just a having a place to tread water, is the idea of having a goal. It’s the idea of “I’m working towards something that’s important to me in my life,” and having a clear sense of whether you’re getting there or not. Goals may be practical and behavioral (“I want to get myself into a schedule”) or emotional (“I want to learn to deal with my overwhelming sadness”). Your goal can be “I want to talk about whatever’s on my mind without having to worry about judgement or fallout in my life, and maybe figure out how to deal with it a bit.” The important thing is that it’s your goal. You define it, and you work towards it in a way that works for you.
It may take you some time to define a goal. Often, people come into therapy knowing that there’s “something wrong” that has to change, but it can take a few sessions to really define what that change might look like. Your therapist can help you pin down exactly what you want your goal to be, through reflecting what he’s hearing from you and pointing out the themes that you’re presenting to him in session.
If you find that your sessions are starting to feel like a “flavor of the week”, with no consistent theme to what you’re talking about, have a discussion about goals with your therapist. Have you reached yours? Have you defined them? Maybe the goals you originally set aren’t your top priority right now. What you’d like to accomplish now may be different from what you set out originally.
It’s your party, and what it looks like is up to you.