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  • Writer's picturekjrusseth

From Stuck to Whole: Embracing Therapy's Transformative Potential

Many people start therapy because they feel unhappy, stuck, or unsatisfied with life. They may not have the words to articulate exactly what they want to work on. However, taking time to clarify your true aspirations for therapy can help set you on a path to more profound and lasting change.


In her article “Preserving Our Humanity as Therapists,” psychologist Nancy McWilliams explores the core values that have traditionally guided the psychotherapeutic process. She compiled a list of “therapeutic goals” that move beyond just relieving symptoms to achieving deeper understanding and authenticity.


Internalizing this expanded view of therapy’s possibilities can help you get so much more out of the process. In this post, I’ll break down some of the key goals and values that good therapy strives to fulfill according to McWilliams. I aim to provide clarity on what you should expect from the therapeutic journey. When you know what’s truly possible, you can seek it out and open yourself up to meaningful transformation.


The goals below are distilled from decades of wisdom on what enables people to build lives of greater fulfillment, connection, and inner peace.


  • Acceptance - Coming to terms with hard realities and integrating them into your understanding. Recognizing our limited control and that no one is perfect.

  • Adaptability (self-regulation) - Learning to manage emotions, impulses, and behaviors adaptively. Being flexible and adjusting your course when there are things you can't change.

  • Agency/Responsibility (self-efficacy) - Cultivating a sense of confidence in one's abilities. Growing your ability to make choices and direct your life path.

  • Attachment - Recognizing healthy bonds as crucial for well-being.

  • Authenticity (self-expression) - Acting in alignment with your true self rather than just conforming.

  • Balance - Maintaining equilibrium and stability across the ups and downs of life. Finding harmony between responsibilities and self-care. Integrating work, relationships, play, and rest sustainably. Learning the art of moderation between extremes.

  • Cognitive shift - Being able to cognitively shift gears and direct attention with more full awareness.

  • Complexity - Recognizing that human beings and problems are complicated, not simple.

  • Connecting and Relating - Building meaningful relationships and community bonds. Seeing one's struggles as part of the larger human experience rather than feeling isolated.

  • Curiosity - Remaining open and interested to learn about people's inner worlds.

  • Egalitarianism - Valuing that all people deserve respect and fairness, regardless of differences.

  • Emotions - Respecting feelings as meaningful messages rather than dismissing them as irrational or fictitious, and recognizing emotions as signals providing insight rather than overreacting as if they reflect absolute truth.

  • Empathy/Compassion - Making strong efforts to grasp others' experiences. Being able to deeply understand, share others' feelings, and care about others.

  • Faith in Interpersonal Process - Believing in the power of therapist-client relationships to foster change.

  • Fulfillment - Having a sense of purpose, meaningful engagement, and fulfillment across different life domains including relationships, work, and leisure/hobbies.

  • Self-comfort (self-compassion) - Treating oneself with understanding, patience, and kindness rather than harsh criticism. Offering warmth and reassurance to oneself in the face of pain or failure rather than judgment. Cultivating inner peace through self-forgiveness, practicing self-care, and building internal resources.

  • Grieving - Processing loss as part of learning to live with hard changes.

  • Growth - Developing as a person over time; becoming wiser and more mature.

  • Healing - Recovering from emotional pain and finding more wholeness.

  • Honesty - Being willing to face difficult truths rather than denying them.

  • Humility - Keeping balanced self-confidence rather than entitled self-importance.

  • Insight - Gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, others, and the world.

  • Integrity - Becoming more internally coherent, consistent and whole as a person over time. Integrating seeming contradictions into a meaningful whole.

  • Interdependency - Appreciating the need for mutual support among people and being able to benefit from healthy reliance on others when needed.

  • Limit setting - Establishing appropriate limits and boundaries with others.

  • Questioning assumptions - Challenging established beliefs or biases when helpful.

  • Respect (subjectivity) - Letting people define their own truth and meaning. Honoring peoples' inner lives as real and meaningful to them.

  • Self-esteem - Developing accurate insight into one's strengths and limitations. Building reasonable self-worth and a positive self-concept, independent of specific traits or achievements.

  • Understanding yourself - Getting to know your mind, patterns, and motivations through self-reflection.

May reflecting on these spark inspiration for your own growth!

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