Goal setting is extremely important to the therapeutic process. It anchors the client to the purpose of therapy and provides a concrete objective to work towards. In all, it ensures that therapy is effective and that the client doesn’t just “feel” better but actually “gets” better. In fact, goal setting is a core counseling skill for any mental health practitioner.
What and how would you like to change?
Goal setting should be a collaborative process, guided by the client’s intent and the therapist’s expertise. Once the goal is identified and agreed upon, the next step is to understand where the client is in relation to their goal. To prevent the client from feeling overwhelmed, it’s helpful to break the goal into smaller, manageable steps. No matter the direction therapy takes, it always begins with asking questions.
At the beginning of therapy, it’s important to assess and confirm the client’s commitment to
achieving the goal, and how the goal will be beneficial to them in the long term. It’s also helpful to discuss any obstacles that might prevent the client from completing a step and discuss strategies to overcome them.
A goal should be mutually negotiated upon so that it is SMART :-
Expecting a magical solution
Things that aren’t in the client’s control
Feeling neutral or unaffected
To ensure every session is effective, and that the client is engaging with the therapeutic process, frequent reassessment of the goal is vital. By doing this, the therapist checks that they are working towards a goal that is relevant to the client at that time. It’s also important to assess aspects such as inhibitions towards goals, expectations from the process, and the client’s motivation for change. This ensures every session is as effective and efficient as the overall therapeutic process.
Emotional goals: The therapist helps the client deal emotionally with their adversity as effectively as possible. For example, after an incident where a friend has betrayed your trust, it is not helpful to be depressed by the adversity. Nor is it realistic to be indifferent toward a negative situation. What might be helpful is to set feeling healthily sad about the betrayal as a potential goal.
Behavioural goals: people have a tendency to behave in ways that relate to their current effect. Therefore along with negotiating an emotional goal, it is helpful to have an appropriate behaviour change goal. For example, Unhealthy negative emotions like anxiety about an upcoming presentation will yield unhealthy behaviours like panicking, avoidance, sleep disturbances, etc. Healthy negative emotions like concern about an upcoming deadline will correspond to healthy behaviours like appropriate preparation, confidence while delivering the presentation, etc.
Decision-Making Goals: These goals can help the client make a choice and take appropriate actions when faced with conflicting options. This can help them move forward and be ‘unstuck’. For example, a married woman, in an unhappy marriage is struggling with the decision to stay in it or leave. Therefore, the goal could be to assess both options, make a suitable choice and implement it.
Setting therapeutic goals is a complex task. Goals may change along the path to recovery, therefore frequent reassessment of the goal is vital. A goal must be mutually agreed upon, non-harmful to the client, and realistic in all ways. Keep in mind, emotional goals are often connected to behavioural ones. And, outcomes must be, in some way, measurable to the client.
About Author –
Hardika Zaveri –
Hardika has completed her MSc. in Clinical Psychology from Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has been trained in REBT at the Advanced Level from the Albert Ellis Institute, New York. Hardika has previously worked with underprivileged children and cancer patients through various NGOs and also has prior experience working in a psychiatric clinic.