I find therapy to be much more effective if the goals for therapy are clear from the beginning. In the initial session of therapy I ask clients to fill out a goal sheet, as homework. The sheet offers a place to list three desired goals. Below this is a space to describe the steps or methods for achieving these goals. They may not know the steps and methods, this is likely why they are seeking therapy, they don’t know how to achieve their goals. I ask them to do their best and tell me what they do know about how their goals might be achieved. This helps the clients recognize what they already know.
I fill out a similar sheet, after listening to clients describe their goals during the intake. Because I need to fill out the goal sheet, the first session stays largely focused on what they hope to achieve by signing up for therapy. This begins the process of looking for solutions rather than just identifying and complaining about the challenges they are facing.
When the client returns to the second session we review the goal sheets. This goal-focus helps therapy be successful. Several important factors are made visible by setting and reviewing goals:
- The client brings clarity of purpose to their investment in therapy.
- The client sees if I understood their intentions and goals.
- The client has a chance to see my steps and methods for helping them achieve success. This allows them to decide if they want to move forward with the work.
- Therapy is clearly shown to be client driven, serving their agenda not mine.
- The client is shown clearly that their goals will be achieved only by their efforts and commitment. I offer no magic.
- Clients see that therapy is purposeful and directed. Goals are achievable if tools and skills are in place.
I find this goal-focused approach empowers clients. It lets them define the agenda, shows them the steps they’ll have to take, and allows me to step into my expertise as the seller of tools and skills. I often us the garden shop metaphor when talking about my role to clients. I tell them, “When you go to the garden shop you can buy all sorts of wonderful tools for improving your garden. The garden shop is not responsible for the work only for selling the tools. If you return to the shop to complain that your yard is still full of weeds, the owners might sell you another tool, or sharpen the one you have, but they make it clear they aren’t responsible for the work.” Once a client has cleared their life of the weeds I remind them that I did very little to make this happen. I sold them tools but they did the work. The celebration of success is theirs!
Once the goal sheets are reviewed, I keep a copy of the sheet in the clients chart. Often clients ask for a copy for themselves. The goal sheets are reviewed at any time in the process of therapy, to make sure we are on task to meeting their intentions. If needs and desires change the goals for therapy are revised.
One of my favorite things to do when a client is finished with therapy is to take out the original goal sheets and check off the accomplishments. This is a very power-full and honoring celebration of the client’s hard work and accomplishments.
Writing client goals is a bit of work but I find it helps me think clearly about the client’s needs and form a clear strategic plan for success. I also use these sheets when I write up treatment plans for insurance. They are an invaluable part of my practice. Here is a copy of what I use: