Thursday, 20 September 2018

Working With Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling

Duncan Law is a consultant clinical psychologist at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and University College London. He is interested in quality improvement across child mental health systems, better collaborative practice, Goals Based Outcomes (GBOs), better use of evidence informed practice, and authentic participation.

Mick Cooper is a professor of Counselling Psychology at Roehampton University. He is the author of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling (Sage, 2015).

In this blog post, Duncan talks about their new co-edited volume Working with Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Recent evidence suggests that working with goals in counselling and psychotherapy can support positive therapeutic change. Goals can empower clients and give them hope: helping them feel that they have the capacity to act towards achieving their desired futures. Goals can help focus, and direct, clients’ and therapists’ attention, building a better therapeutic alliance.  Goal-setting and goal-tracking can help to ensure that therapy is personalised to the individual client: so that they are working towards objectives that are of genuine importance to them.

The different motivations for seeking, and offering, counselling and psychotherapy link with the debate around the use and usefulness of goals in therapy.  The best kind of therapy is the one that fits the needs and wishes and preferences and context of the client. But here is the crux of the matter: before therapists can offer the right kind of help or guidance or facilitation, they need to ask the client (perhaps not so bluntly): ‘What do you want?’

‘What do you want?’ is a deceptively simple question that draws on complex psychological processes and requires great therapeutic skills to help a client answer. From the perspective developed in this book, the client’s answer to this question should set the over-arching direction for the therapeutic process itself. Unless we know the client’s reasons for embarking on a therapeutic journey we cannot be as helpful as they or we might wish. 

How we help and how we understand the question, how we support and facilitate the client to find the answer that is right for them and the myriad potential answers to it, is the starting point for how we help and how we go on being helpful. This is about how we help the client start, and how we remain flexible and open to changes in the directions and reasons for travel, and how we seek to work to be as helpful as we can in joining the client on their journey.

The historical developments of psychological therapies have led to differing cultures, psychologies, and philosophical assumptions and brought about varying attitudes and approaches to goals in therapeutic practice. Working with Goals in Counselling and Psychotherapy, brings this range of attitudes and approaches together in one volume making it a valuable and critical guide for therapists of any orientation.  

The book provides practical advice on how to help clients set, and work towards, personalised goals; the tools that are available to support these processes; and the theoretical and empirical foundations of this work. It covers the psychology and philosophy of goals and has a chapter written by experts with lived experience of mental health issues and offers their experiences of using goals in their own therapy.  As such it is essential reading for all therapists interested in goals in counselling, psychotherapy and psychological therapies, and how they can be used to optimise therapeutic change.

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