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Improved Goal-Setting Can Aid Depression Treatment

Improved Goal-Setting Can Aid Depression Treatment

New research suggests the treatment of people with clinical depression could be improved by helping them set positive, achievable goals.

Psychology researchers from the University of Liverpool, Edith Cowan University, Australia, and the University of Exeter analyzed the link between clinical depression and how people experiencing the condition set and pursue personal goals.

The research examined personal goals set by 42 people diagnosed with clinical depression and another 51 with no history of depression.

Investigators asked participants to list their personal approach and avoidance goals. For example, approach goals may include a focus on reaching a desirable outcome, such as ”improve my marathon time.”

Avoidance goals, on the other hand, focus on preventing an undesired outcome. For example, avoid getting upset over the little things.

Perhaps surprisingly, researchers found that people experiencing depression were not less motivated than those without depression.

Lead author Dr. Joanne Dickson said, “This was backed up by the fact that both groups listed a similar number of goals and valued their personal goals similarly. However the group with depression were more pessimistic about achieving their goals and had more difficulty generating goals focused on positive outcomes.

“The group with depression were also more likely to give up on goals they saw as unattainable and at the same time reported greater difficulty in setting new goals to pursue.

“While disengaging from unattainable goals is thought to help break a cycle of goal failure, negative thinking, and depression this is complicated by the difficulty in setting new goals for people with depression.”

Unfortunately, this pattern of goal pursuit may exacerbate depression according to Dickson.

“If we can develop better ways to help people with depression set goals that are achievable and focused on positive outcomes, and assist them in identifying ways to achieve their goals, it is likely to enhance a sense of well-being,” she said.

“Personal goals are integral to many therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior activation therapy used to treat depression. Therefore, a better understanding of personal goal processes shows promise in developing more effective treatments for depression.

“Building confidence and self-belief around goal pursuit may also provide a useful strategy in preventing the onset of depression.”

The paper was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Source: University of Liverpool

Improved Goal-Setting Can Aid Depression Treatment

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Improved Goal-Setting Can Aid Depression Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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