Goal-setting with your child’s therapist: why it’s important

By Dr Kelly Bowers, Youthrive Clinical Psychologist

Goal-setting is one of the most important things you can do in order to live the life you want for yourself and your family. While the benefits of setting goals are often talked about and generally understood, the consistent achievement of our goals is often a little trickier to master. The purpose of this article is to highlight some tips for developing good goal-setting habits, suggestions on how to navigate barriers that may try to get in our way, and ways in which to apply these strategies when working with integrated therapies.

There are three key messages that I invite readers to take away from this article:

  • Be prepared – Develop good goal-setting habits through strong preparation
  • Remain patient – Focus on the process on achieving your goals rather than the outcome
  • Take control – No one is going to work as hard as you on the goals that are important to you and your family

 

WHAT ARE GOALS?

Goals are ideas you have about what you want to do with your life. They help you to take aim of a desired result that is important to you, your child, and/or your family.

Our brains are wired to love rewards. We often get a kick out of even the most menial tasks, like folding the washing. Completion of these tasks gives us a sense of accomplishment; similar to achieving goals. It feels really good to set a goal. We all know that kick of motivation that have on January 1st. But how often do we actually achieve the resolutions that we set ourselves from year to year? We abandon them quickly. The reason is simple – we don’t often prepare or plan well enough for them. We don’t factor in the likelihood of setbacks or obstacles. Goals without a plan are just wishes. There is nothing wrong with having dreams and wishes – I invite you to actualise them by being prepared, taking an active role in their development and outcomes. Message 1: Be prepared!

 

WHY SET GOALS?

Setting goals allow us to gain control of our lives and where it’s going. They help us focus on and decide what is meaningful to us, while simultaneously motivating us to achieve them. Setting goals organises our dreams and wishes by giving us structure and a pathway to follow so that we may also track our progress and achievements. In doing so it has the added effect of building our self-confidence and further driving our determination. Be Prepared.

 

BENEFITS OF GOAL-SETTING

A lot of research has been conducted on the benefits of goal-setting within the healthcare industry. Why? Goal-setting is important! These research studies have focused on a large range of therapies across a large range of disabilities and illnesses. The findings from these studies have all commonly identified three key benefits:

  • Improved satisfaction of therapy
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Achievement of positive health outcomes

 

HOW TO SET GOALS

Meaningful goals that truly inspire you to start working towards the life that you want, require time and planning. Allow yourself time to deeply consider what it is that you want in your life or those of your loved ones? Consider what is most important to you, your child and your family. What things would you most like to change? What would you most like to improve about your daily living? What would you like to be able to achieve in the future? What key areas are going to have the biggest impact on your life?

Then ask yourself:

  • Why are these goals important?
  • When do I want to achieve it?
  • What resources do I have to help achieve it?
  • What resources do I still need, and how will I get them?
  • Who can help me? How can they help me?
  • How will I know that my goal has been achieved?
  • What are my next steps? And when will I take them?

 

Think about what you want in the coming year, then ask yourself why you want that — three times in a row. For example, if you want your child to learn how to read, ask why you want them to read. Then, if you want them to read so they can learn and have an education, ask why you want them to learn. Then, if your answer is so they can have more opportunities in life, ask why you want them to have more opportunities. By doing this, you gain a stronger sense of why something is so important to you, and why you want to achieve it.

 

In order to increase the likelihood of successfully achieving our goals, we need to ensure that our goals are SMART goals.

Specific – know exactly what you want to achieve. Give a detailed description based on your answers to the questions above.

Measureable – What will it look like when it is achieved? What proof will you have? How will you measure it?

Achievable – Weigh up the effort, time, cost of achieving the goal against the benefits of doing so, and the other obligations that you have in your life at the time. 

Realistic – Can it actually be done?

Time – Can it be achieved in the time frame that you are setting?

 

How you describe your goal makes a big difference. Focusing on what you want to bring into your life, not what you want to avoid, will make you more likely to actually pursue it. That positivity can help motivate you when you find yourself slipping.

 

REMAIN PATIENT

Focus on the process, not the outcome.

When we set goals, it’s easy to fixate on that magical ending when we’ve reached the goal and everything is better. But we can’t always control outcomes. We have to inch toward them, one step at a time. A common mistake is trying to change everything all at once.  It is important to note that small changes lead to big changes.

Ask yourself, what is the smallest thing I can do today that helps me reach my goal? If you make daily choices that are consistent with your goal over and over again, you will eventually reach it. In doing so, you will start to establish good goal-setting habits.

Break your goals down into different time periods (short-, medium-, long-term). Short term goals may be what you want to achieve this month, medium term goals may be what you want to achieve in 6 months, while long term goals are what you want to achieve within the year. We can further shorten these goals to what we want to achieve this week, or this day in order to get to the next level. Message 2: Remain patient!

 

OBSTACLES

Don’t try to avoid shortcomings – plan for them!

Try and predict what challenges you may face and plan for them. Consider your resources and supports. Have a plan in place to activate these if needed.

When detours and roadblocks come up, remind yourself why your goal matters to you. Those simple reminders about why it’s important can refresh your motivation and keep you headed in the right direction. Moments of failure are inevitable, but most of us abandon the goal entirely when minor failures and setbacks start piling up. Go back to those questions earlier about what resources you have or need, and who can help. Don’t feel as though you need to do it all on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask professionals for help.

 

PERSON-CENTRED GOALS

There are two schools of thought when setting goals with the support of health professionals – therapist-centred goals and person-centred goals. Therapist-centred goals are largely determined by the therapist and what they think is important or a priority. In this model, it is the therapist who largely decides how they will go about working towards a goal with limited consultation with clients, parents and families. The problem here is that you surrender control to the things that are most important to you. Remember, no one is going to work as hard as you on the goals that are important to you and your family.

Person-centred goals on the other hand are individualised, collaborative, and include collective decisions between the client and the therapist. This approach has been proven to increase client empowerment and motivation, and improve therapy outcomes and client satisfaction.

Take control. Have your say. Share why your goals are important with your therapist and ensure that they understand.

 

SETTING GOALS WITH INTEGRATED THERAPY

If we are setting goals across several aspects of our lives, then it is likely that we will need to access support from multiple therapists or teams in order to help achieve them. However, this can often be problematic as constraints around time, resources, agreement, and therapeutic overlap become impacted. As a result, therapy can become inefficient and costly. Hence the importance of taking control of the ways in which you set goals with your therapy teams.

When there is a need to access multiple therapies, consider attending therapy clinics where different therapies, such as psychology, speech pathology and occupational therapy, are integrated and work together in the same location. This improves efficiency in communication between therapists. However, if you are choosing to work with individual therapists across separate clinics ensure that you do your research into how they practice beforehand:

  • Ensure that individual therapists are using the same theoretical framework as one another and ask them about their capacity to communicate with other therapists outside of their organisation.
  • Ensure all therapists are using the same classification or recording system to define your goals – using a common and standardised language is helpful by reducing overlap and misinterpretation.
  • Ensure that all goals are clearly defined and common (using SMART goals)
  • Ensure that all goals need to be shared with each therapist. Only you can take control of this. Be active by making copies of goal templates and recorded progress with you to each session with each therapist. Refer back to them regularly with your therapy team. Remind your therapists of your goals and why they are important to you and your family.

Message 3: Take control!

 

STICK WITH IT!

As we have discussed above, setbacks are going to happen. By being prepared, remaining patient and taking control, you put yourself in a much stronger position to overcome any challenges and turn your goals into a reality. What you do each day will start to form positive habits for goal achievement. Along the way, make sure that you build in reminders to help keep you on track and review your goals regularly. But most importantly, be sure to build in rewards for your achievements. Celebrate your milestones both minor and major – doing so will continue to drive your motivation and help to live the life that you want.

 

Download this useful Goal Setting Tip Sheet created by Dr Kelly Bowers to help you set and achieve your goals!