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How to Make SMART Goals in Therapy

If you haven’t noticed already, therapists love acronyms. Who can blame us? They are a great way to jog the memory! A common acronym used in psychotherapy and many other healthcare settings is the “SMART” goals. This post is going to go over what that stands for and how you could apply it to setting goals in your own therapeutic work.

Writing goals

S: Stands for Specific. This covers the what, why, who, where, and which. It’s important to be specific with our goals so we have direction regarding our goal. The specifics of the goal can help us start brainstorming, problem solving and give us a starting point. Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself when setting the “specific” section of your goal:

What do I want to accomplish?

Why do I want to accomplish it?

Who is involved? Whose support do I need?

Where does this occur?

What resources do I need?

M: Stands for measurable. Making sure a goal is measurable is another way we can help recognize if we accomplished our goals. In psychotherapy we use measurables like time and assessment scales like the Likert scale (rating symptoms on a 1-10 scale), GAD-7 (an assessment tool used to measure anxiety symptoms) or the PHQ-9 (an assessment tool used to measure depression symptoms).

We can test this by asking questions such as:

My goal is to attend sessions once per week for 3 months.

My goal is to reduce my anxiety on the GAD-7 from an 8 to a 6 in 3 months.

A: Stands for achievable. How can I accomplish this goal and is it realistic given any limitations I may have (financial, time, etc.)? If your goal is to reduce your depression symptoms on a Likert scale from 10-2 in three months, we would have to check in to see if this is achievable. Does it feel achievable to reduce depression symptoms from an overall 10 to a 2? For sure! Does it feel achievable to do in three months? That might be a tight timeline. Can you afford to take time off of work and focus on your mental health 24/7 for those three months? Then perhaps this is becoming more realistic.

R: Stands for relevant. Relevancy in the area of health and wellness can be broad and change as your health changes. This category can be especially important to check in with yourself about each time you make your goals. To see if your goal is relevant to you, try asking yourself:

Does the goal align with my values? My family’s values?

What’s important to me? In terms of my mental health and overall health?

Is this the right time to work on this goal?

T: Stands for timely. When do I want to complete this goal and is that realistic? When we look at our big overall goal, the timeline can be daunting. When we break down our big goals into smaller, more manageable ones we can set shorter timelines. In psychotherapy, it’s common to write treatment plans with your provider every 3-6 months. You and your provider can check in about your goals during the therapy process and when it is time to renew the treatment plan.

Once you lay out each of the sections of your SMART goal, you can really start to see a full picture form and start to get your needs met as you make changes. I hope this helps you on your journey to wellness!


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