How Therapists Keep Their Clients Accountable

Coffee cup and calendar for accountability

Working with a therapist is one of the best things that you can do to better your mental health. It is a highly individualized process and can look different from person to person. This is what makes therapy feel so safe and productive for so many people.

At the same time, there often comes a time when you’re working on particular goals in therapy and need to be held accountable for making progress. Staying on task, and being accountable for your progress, is an important part of the therapy process — but it can be tricky territory when you need help staying on track. Some people may feel ashamed to ask for help, others may be resistant to the thought of being held accountable.

Here are some ways therapists may help hold you accountable and keep you focused on the tasks at hand.

It All Begins with Collaboration

When you start therapy, you should come in to the space with some idea of what you’d like to achieve from the journey you’re embarking on. This could be something broad such as, “I want to feel more satisfied with my life” or it could be very specific: “I need to minimize my distractions, and actually finish that major project at work.” From the outset, your therapist will likely communicate the need for collaboration in your relationship.

Whether you come to therapy with a specific goal, or are hoping to hone your goals in the process, your therapist will be there to listen and help you make sense of your priorities. They will use their expertise and experience in personal development to help you make that goal simpler and measurable for you so that you can observe progress as you move forward. This feedback, is at best, a two way street and sets the foundation for a collaborative relationship throughout your tenure in therapy.

Your therapist isn’t meant to direct your life, they want to be the support system that helps you make the choices necessary to manage symptoms and live healthier. WIth that, they will likely collaborate with you on ways to make your goal more attainable. They will talk to you about the benefits and potential risks associated with your goal, and help you see potential pitfalls and prepare for them down the line. The collaborative nature of this relationship will set the tone as you address inevitable speed bumps in the therapy process. Having a stable relationship with your therapist has also been found to be one of the biggest predictors of positive outcomes in therapy.

They May Redirect You & Help You Avoid Distractions

Life comes at us quickly. Often, people end up wanting to work on a few different issues in therapy, which deviates from the overarching goal you and your therapist agreed upon at the outset. That’s OK! Your therapist will account for some variation in your meetings, but may, at times, redirect you to focus on your central goal, especially if they find you may be inadvertently avoiding it or creating barriers for yourself.

They Will Check In Periodically & Provide Feedback

One of the primary ways that your therapist may help hold you accountable throughout your therapy process is to periodically check in with your thoughts and feelings about your progress. These check-ins are essential to a successful therapy process and can be tough to do when you don’t feel a solid connection with your therapist. That’s why it’s so important to have that strong relationship as a foundation from which to communicate honestly with each other, and progress.

Your therapist may use your own qualitative feedback about your process but they may use assessments, such as the Beck Anxiety Inventory, as a part of their work to track progress.  Some therapists may also use other regular, formal measures like the Session Rating Scale for feedback after each session to ensure that you are satisfied with the direction of therapy or to discern if changes need to be made to the therapy process.

Additionally, your therapist will also provide feedback about how they think you’ve been doing in therapy. Note that this isn’t meant to be like getting a grade in school: your therapist’s honest and authentic feedback is one of the best tools at your disposal in the therapy process. They will share their thoughts about your accountability with you and may reference things they have observed in sessions, as well as discuss examples that may have come up in therapy which may be affecting your bottom line. This feedback, while emotionally challenging, may also prove to be a necessary catalyst for continuing to move forward or changing directions to help you better reach your goal.

Finding accountability in therapy can be a difficult process, and it looks different for everyone. Individual therapists have their own strategies and techniques to keep clients engaged and working towards their goals.

But across the board, the relationship between client and therapist is at the core of therapy. Being able to talk openly and discuss obstacles both within, and outside of, therapy will enable you a more satisfying therapy process as well as better treatment outcomes.  Speak with your therapist about how you can identify progress and manage accountability at the outset so that you have both knowledge and comfort about the best ways to meet your goals.

Published by

Jor-El Caraballo

Talkspace Therapist