CBT Goal Setting

Goal Setting in CBT

This article discusses:

  1. Why goals are important and why I am doing this article
  2. Types of goals
  3. Where to start when setting goals

You can listen to this Article through my Podcast:

1.- Why Goals are Important and why I am writting this Article

  • Before we start it is important to clarify that goal setting is central to CBT.
  • Goals set clear expectations for you on what you want to get out of treatment.
  • Goals also help you to make the best use of therapy and take you where it matters for you.
  • Agreeing to detailed, specific goals to work on its part of the beginning of the treatment journey.
  • Goals are used in treatment to keep track of people’s progress during treatment, and to work together with your therapist to achieve them.
  • Some of them may be long term goals, that will be achieved after treatment, hence leading to maintain progress of treatment.

goal setting in cbt before therapies

Settings goals is a difficult task, that many of us find difficult, even when we are in a good place or feeling good about ourselves. So, no surprise that people not feeling 100% find it even harder.

This is exactly why I am writting this article.

Time and time again I sat or 2 – 3 sessions of therapy setting goals and trying to work out concrete goals from abstract/general goals, that people would find rewarding.

If you are accessing treatment through NHS, you may be receiving something between 6 to 20 sessions, depending on the service. It is important to clarify that this is for High Intensity CBT through IAPT in England.

So, if you are going to be seeing someone for 6 sessions you may want to get the most out of them and not to be spending 1 whole session on finding what you want to get out of treatment.

If you have decided to invest on your wellbeing and look at private CBT, not just with me but with any other practitioner, you may want to make the most of your investment. Hence, knowing what you want to get out of treatment, and getting specific and clear goals before treatment will save you some cash!

Therefore, I thought lets help people make the best of their investment, and here we are.

2.- Types of Goals

We could classify goals in 2 categories, for the purpose of treatment.

General Goals

These may reflect areas you would like your life to change or improve. For example: being a better partner/wife/husband, be more successful at my job, feel calmer or feel more worthwhile.

types of goals in therapy

Specific Goals

These goals provide reasonable and observable changes that you can monitor regularly. So, if you feel that you are falling into all habits and your wellbeing is affected, then you can check if that is the case.

We need to think how things may look when we first try setting goals. As, it is very common to set abstract goals about emotional changes.

challenging goal setting

 To Be Clear!

Many people, in fact most of us, want our problems to go away and feel better. And these apply for mental and physical health.

And setting goals when not feeling well, it’s harder, and it can feel an impossible thing to do.

So please accept that it will take you time to work on them, and be patient and kind to yourself.

Let’s see some of goals that may look general or/and specific.

The following are some examples of goals, I’ve come across in my practice:

  • I just want to be happy
  • I don’t want to feel anxious anymore
  • I want to get back to my old self

These goals sometimes are too broad, unrealistic or not depending only on us. This make the goals difficult to acchive and it may lead to feelings of failure or not being good enough. It is important for us to look at them on more detail.

Let’s take the first goal example:

  • Do we all experience happiness the same way?
  • Do the same things make us all happy?
  • Does happiness involve others’ actions? Do we have control over their actions?
  • Can anyone be happy every day all the time? Does this mean that life will not change or problems will never arise?
  • What does happiness look like to you?

Let’s take the second example:

  • Anxiety is a human emotion in response to events, as much as happiness or sadness, so how realistic is to achieve an anxious-less life, or not experience sadness or any other emotion?
  • Likewise, it would be unrealistic to stop experiencing negative thoughts about yourself, others or the world, at some point in life.

Now, you may already be noticing where I am going with this. So, let’s look the third goal:

  • Can you go back in time?
  • Can you change your age?
  • Can you un-experience what you have lived?
  • Can you change how others behaved or lived?
  • Can you do the same what you use to do?

These are very important questions to ask yourself when you are looking to set specific, measurable, realistic, achievable, manageable and timed changes or goals in your day to day, that could lead you to improve your well-being.

If you have any questions so far, please do not hesitate to do it through the comment section.

We are going to move onto setting some goals.


3.- Where to start when setting goals

Broad/General Goals

Let’s start with some broad/general goals, and try to narrow the.

For example, you want a tidier house, for your house mates to keep the house tidy and organised. This goal is not dependent on you only, as you cannot control what others do.

Some useful questions to ask yourself:


Beginnings of goal setting

Does this goal involve other people?

If having an untidy house is something that affects your mood, then you might first want to decide if you want or can move out. Then, if this is not a possibility maybe you may set a goal such as: to learn how to reduce the amount stress this situation causes me, or to be able to communicate this difficulty with my house mates.

Does your goal involve changing things that are in your control?

You may have been able to manage stress due to sharing living spaces, or be more assertive at communicating. Yet, ultimately the others are the ones who need to make the changes. Hopefully, you will have a sense of satisfaction for being able to do your best at reaching your goals.

Is your goal realistic? Is it possible to have a tidy house every day when sharing accommodation? Also, how untidy is the house at the moment?

You may want to set more realistic and specific goal, such as tidy up once a week with my flat mates, if they cleaned the kitchen but not the living room, then this ok. We will look how to set specific and realistic goals next.

By now you may have narrowed down your broad general goals to more specific general goals. For example, you may want to become more assertive and confident in your day to day. Hence, you will be able to tell your flat mates to tidy up. Perhaps, you may come to an agreement with your flat mates of what could be an acceptable mess.

Hopefully, some of these questions can begin to help you to look into how to set realistic general/broad goals.

Specific Goals

Let’s say for argument sake that you have come up with some couple of general/broad goals: be more assertive, accept other people’s behaviours and check less my windows and doors.

Also Known As


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable and Realistic
  • Timed

We will focus on be more assertive. So, how can we get this to be more SPECIFIC? These are some questions that may give you some start point:

  • What would you be doing differently/more/less if you were more assertive?
    • I would be asking people to be more polite if they said something I found offensive
    • I would tell my boos I do not want to do overtime
    • I would ask someone out
  • What areas of your life you would like to change or reclaim?
    • Relationships
    • Work
  • How would your day look like if you were more assertive?
    • I would wake up ready to face the day
    • I would be able to finish work at the time I am supposed to
  • How would you feel if you could put your point across more often?
    • Initially I would be anxious, but with time I hope it would be easier

Now the goals may be more specific and these questions may have led to this goal to be MEASURABLE too. However, these are other questions to help you with this.

  • How will you know you are working or achieved your goal?
  • Would anyone notice any changes? Would they tell you?
  • What would you be or not be doing?
  • Can you see the changes in your day to day while working on your goals?

Sometimes we set long term goals that may not be ACHIEVABLE and REALISTIC. So, it is important to think about this too.

  • Do I need to do anything before I can achieve my goals?
  • Can I do 1 or 2 small changes that will make me feel better in the short term?
  • Are there smaller steps/goals that need to be put in place before achieving this goal?
  • What difficulties I may encounter on my journey? And what/who can be in place to support me?
  • If this was some you cared about goal, where would you advise them to start?

And finally, it is important to set TIMES for your goals. So, when you have set various specific goals lets as yourself:

  • When would you like to achieve this?
  • How long would take me the small goals/steps to achieve larger/longer term goals?

Prioratizing Goals

Let’s see how to prioritize goals. You can do this by asking similar questions to:

  • Is there anything you need to do right now! to avoid a crisis?
  • Which goal could improve your wellbeing immediately?
  • Which is the easiest goal to do?
  • Which is the most important goal for you?


So, having gone through all this process, you may have come up with some goals. This may be some examples of specific goals:

  • I will ask to take my full break at work, if in the same month I have not had time to have my full break more than 3 times.
  • To be able to ask my boss about it, I will practice 3 weeks in advance to be assertive with friends/in shops/mirror.
  • I will tell my colleague that his jokes about my hair are upsetting, on Monday during the office meeting, and I will ask politely to stop doing it.

These are some examples of goals that you may have come up after reading the about CBT Goal Setting:

To be more assertive

–        I will ask to take my full break at work, if in the same month I have not had time to have my full break more than 3 times.

–        To be able to ask my boss about it, I will practice 3 weeks in advance to be assertive with friends/in shops/mirror.

–        I will tell my colleague that his jokes about my hair are upsetting, on Monday during the office meeting, and I will ask politely to stop doing it.

To reduce the times, I check things

–        Check the door only once when I leave my house, in the next 3 weeks.

–        To know what it is the norm when checking switches, and reduce it to that.

To be less concerned about physical illness

–        To go to the GP less, as I know this is excessive, maybe 1 – 2 times every 3 – 4 months.

–        To stop looking up online about every illness I can think off, I would like to do this by next summer

In regards CBT Goal Setting, the article has covered

  1. Why goals are important and why I am doing this video
  2. Types of goals
  3. Where to start when setting goals

The intention was for you to make the most of treatment, and begin to look at what things could change in your day to day that could improve your wellbeing.

After reading this, if you are starting treatment I wish you all the best. If you are looking to know more about CBT you can read more by clicking here, and if you wish to have a FREE 15 – 20 minutes discussion with me regarding your difficulties and if I am able to support you please click here to Contact Me.


Westbrook, D. E., Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre. (2007). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy: Skills and applications. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Greenberger, D., & Padesky, C. A. (2016). Mind over mood: Change how you feel by changing the way you think (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.

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  1. Thank you for this quick guide! I’m starting a short-term therapy program and I want to get the most out of it. This was very helpful to fine tune broad goals into actionable goals. I just wanted to send my appreciation. All the best!

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