Interviewing Skills Chapter 10

Setting Goals

Set Goals

Goal setting is a process that narrows the client’s concerns, brings initial relief, priorities and clarity to the client, and instills motivation through hope.


Before a goal can be set, the client must be willing to take responsibility for the problem, his or her feelings, and the goal. Many clients focus too much on others or environmental situations that are not likely to change. The result is disempowerment and absence of self-examination, both of which are counter therapeutic.

Theorectical Orientation

Most theoretical orientations agree that to help clients effectively, a counselor must empower clients to change themselves.

Some clients believe that the problem or the change lies outside of themselves.

They may believe that their happiness or problem resolution would be “fixed” if another person, event, or circumstance would change.

What is the helper’s responsibility in the client’s process of change?

Client Motivation Hope

Helpers can acknowledge external forces, but most stay focused on the client and what they can do.

Goals must be constructive

Goals should be specific:

  • Clients make better progress with clear goals. The goals seem more relevant to their problems if they are specific.
  • Helpers can look at the goals to decide if they have the skills and experience to help the client meet them.
  • Goals are stated positively so the client can think about and imagine specific, positive outcomes and increase the client’s resources, energies, and hope.
  • Specific goals are required for 3rd party providers, agencies, and supervisors. This helps reassure others of effective treatment outcomes.
  • Goals help counselors determine how effective counseling has been for the client and helps during the termination process.

Stay Positive

Goals should be stated positively; specifically, reflecting the presence of something new, not just eliminating a problem. This helps add motivation and suggests a course of action. Another way of looking at this is turning each problem into a goal.

Simple and Concrete

Goals should be simple and concrete. When it is possible to quantify the goal, this will encourage the client and help him or her measure his or her progress. Quantifying the goal involves describing the target behaviors in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity. The intensity measure focuses on the affective side of the goal and is often more subjective.


Goals should be important to the client. Clients will work harder and are more likely to be successful when their goals are meaningful to them. While mandatory referrals to counseling may complicate this, helpers still need to involve the client in any way possible.

Team Effort

Goals should be collaboration between helper and client. Collaboration on goal achievement greatly enhances changes of success so it should be a collaborative process. Additionally, best practice is to continually check in with your client about his or her perceived progress.


Goals should be realistic. Clients may enter the helping relationship with unrealistic goals and it is the helper’s responsibility to challenge those, add to the client’s self-awareness, and negotiate a better goal.

Boil Down the Problem

The steps in boiling down a problem are:

1. Summarizing – finding agreement on the content

2. Asking the client to identify the most important problems

3. Select the problem to be addressed – one or two at a time are probably sufficient

4. Change the problem to a goal. Solution–focused questioning helps here: what will the problem look like when it is solved?

5. Clarify the final goal statement - ensure both helper and client agree. Have the client repeat or record the goal in writing

Where can I get help?

Jongsma, Jr., A. E., & Peterson, L. M. (2003). The complete adult psychotherapy treatment planner. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

*Note: The authors also have several other treatment planning publications for a variety of populations (e.g., adolescents, family, etc.) that are very helpful for beginning helpers.