Irritating (but absolutely necessary) therapeutic life lessons

As a counsellor, I talk often with clients about their personal goals for therapy, what they want to work on and why they have decided to embark on the journey. What I don't talk about as frequently, is my own personal take on therapeutic goals.


I have learned over the years, sitting in both the client and counsellor chair, that there are a handful of goals that really have the power to impact a life, not only personally but professionally too. These therapeutic life lessons have been key in so many of my client's journeys, and my own. As irritating as they are, they have the power to transform once they have been unlocked.

Top five therapeutic life lessons

1. Being able to differentiate between rational and emotional responses (Feeling emotions but not being completely ruled by them)

Thinking is just as important as feeling, and to navigate adult life, we really need both. ‘Trusting your gut’ is useful, but in more threatening and urgent situations. It is not necessary for us to operate in our survival mode at all times.

Working out the difference and what this looks like for you is priceless. Practise understanding when you’re reacting from your emotional brain and responding from your rational, this will help you think more objectively and is great for relationships.

2. Learning how to make decisions (knowing what you want)

If you don't know, how do you expect to make choices that are conducive to the life you are trying to live? If we do not make our own decisions, then who makes them for us and what kind of life does it lead us to?

Often, indecisiveness comes from the concern of making ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ choices. The truth is, we will make many decisions in life that on reflection we wish we hadn’t, the more important element is the belief that we can manage the consequences of the decisions we are making. Once you have more faith in your ability to manage fall out, decisions are much easier to make and you’ll feel more in control of your life.

3. Coming to terms with 'failure' (because avoiding it will lead you nowhere new)

The fear of failure prevents us from taking the necessary risks required to gain access to paths we have not travelled. As humans, we are wired to fear the unknown and detect risk in order to stay safe. Unfortunately for us, it is often these very unchartered grounds we must tread to move forward and make changes in life. Annoying, I know.

Doing something new will mean it requires some practise and we may not get it right the first, second or third try. We can prepare all we want for the main event, but confidence in our competency is not often built in the places we feel safe, its mostly built inside of the unchartered territory, doing the things we fear the most. The bad news is, failure is a part of this cycle, the good news is, you can try as many times and in as many different ways as your resources allow.

4. Getting comfortable with being disliked (you are not for everyone)

You will not be everyone’s cup of tea and the sooner you get comfortable with that the better. Now, this is not a free pass to walk around being an a**hole to others, but it is license to stop trying to make every person you encounter like you - it is an impossible task.

When we sit in the position of people-pleasing for too long, we can feel lost, confused and stuck - often not knowing what we want or where we want to go. The point I am making here, is living a life solely to appease others whilst denying true parts of who we are to come forward, is not sustainable and is damaging to our self-concept. 

5. The art of boundaried flexibility (saying no, but knowing when to say yes)

‘Boundaried flexibility’, if ever there was a term, is very grey. My clients, no doubt, are sick of me talking about ‘grey’, but it is what life is. There are far too many nuances, intricacies and complexities in this life for things to be that simple. Everything is about balance.

Boundaries are fundamental to self-preservation, without them we embroil ourselves in situations that we would rather not be in and can be potentially damaging to our worlds. However, flexibility is overlooked in the modern world, and it is a fundamental component for many areas of life, particularly the building and maintenance of relationships.

Having boundaries does not mean you have to be rigid in your thinking, it is possible to maintain control over your life whilst being open to new ways of thinking and practising flexibility when it matters.

These five lessons show up time and time again, and may be areas we work on throughout our entire lives. Remember, finished products do not exist, in the human sense anyway. If ever you are struggling to think of goals for therapy, reflect on these areas in your own life and ask yourself how they’re working out for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Dartford DA2 & London SE10
Written by Danielle Bottone, Integrative Counsellor
Dartford DA2 & London SE10

Danielle is an integrative counsellor with a special interest in trauma and intercultural therapy. She uses a blend of therapeutic coaching, person centred and psychodynamic approaches to assist her clients to address areas of challenge, process life events and deepen self-awareness.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals