5 Simple steps to help clients make outcomes specific, observable & measurable during coaching and therapy

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Many times clients visit a therapist/coach because they want to overcome a negative emotion and they want to feel better or calmer or happier. Many therapists focus on helping clients overcome the negative feelings and feel better, calmer, or happier as primary therapeutic outcomes of the therapy. Now, these are good outcomes to start with but not a reliable indicator for the effectiveness of therapy as feelings are fleeting plus they are not really specific, observable, or measurable.

So what can a therapist or coach do to ensure that the outcome is specific, observable, and measurable?

Define a broad goal:

Outcomes specific

The first step towards helping clients make their outcomes specific, observable, and measurable is to help them define a broad goal. I would generally start with asking the client to define the current situation in the format

I feel ……………… about ……………… when ………………..

If you are wondering why this format, check out the video describing the steps to help clients define the problem clearly and effectively.

Once the client defines the problem, next ask the client to read the problem statement a few times. Ask the client “if this is the problem or the current situation, what is the desired outcome that you would like to achieve with the help of these sessions?

While the client is thinking about the outcome I would ask the client to state the outcome in the format:

I wish……………………………

Once the client fills in the blank, I check whether all the key elements we discussed in the previous video are included in the outcome. If they are not, then I will use the questions and process we discussed in the last video to help clients incorporate all the key elements of a broad outcome in the wish statement.

Now that we have a clearly defined broad outcome the next steps are about helping the client make the outcome specific, observable, and measurable.

Ask the miracle question

Therapeutic outcomes

So the second step begins with asking the client what is popularly known as the miracle question. Tell the client “Let’s say while you are sleeping tonight, a miracle takes place and all your problems are resolved. You wake up in the morning in a world where you have achieved your outcome.

The problem is that the problems got resolved while you were sleeping. So when you wake up you don’t really know that you have achieved your outcome.

Now, what will you see or hear when you wake up in the morning that will make you realise that the problem is resolved and the outcome is achieved? Describe the entire day the way it will be in this future once you have resolved the problem and achieved your outcome?”

Allow the client to answer this question. When the client is answering the question check that the answers are related to things that can be seen or heard by them and by others and that these answers are not just focusing on their feelings.

So if the client says that I will wake up in the morning feeling happy, ask them “what will they see when they look at themselves in the mirror that will make them realise that they are happy? What would they say to themselves and to others which will be a sign that they are happy?”

Once they answer these questions ask them to describe their entire day in terms of what they will see, hear, and say. Once the client narrates the future, ask them who will notice these changes in their lives and how will they (i.e. the client) know that these people have noticed the changes. Ask the client to convert everything they describe in terms of what will be observable through the eyes and the ears.

Ask for 5 major changes they will notice in future

Once the client describes the day in the future, ask the client to tell you 5 other major changes that they will notice in this future. Again ask them to make these changes specific and observable by requesting them to describe these changes in sensory terms.

Ask the client to tell you what would be the proof that these changes have taken place. Emphasis on again what can be observed through eyes and ears though you may also ask clients to incorporate other sensory proof like smell, taste, and sensations in the body where it is possible. You can ask the client to add numbers at places where possible.

So let us say that the client says that one major change in the future will be that I will reduce my weight. Ask the client “how many kilos or what would their new weight be?” If the client says I will start taking time out for vacations in the future. Ask the client “how many vacations, in what frequency and how long would these vacations be?”

If the client says I will be able to earn more money, I am sure you know by now what question to ask, don’t you?

Ask what skills and capabilities would they’ve developed in the future

The next step is to ask the client to tell you what capabilities and skills would they have developed in the future that they don’t have today. Ask them to list the capabilities and skills and also how they will be using these capabilities and skills. This “how” becomes the way to measure whether the skills and capabilities have been developed by the client or not.

Ask how they would feel after achieving the outcome and where

The next is is to ask the client how they would feel once they have achieved all the elements of this outcome and wherein the body would they feel this feeling. You have now been able to ask the client to not just define the outcome but also help the client identify all the small and big indicators that will help you and them, assess how they are progressing in the therapy.

These indicators are a lot more reliable as they require a shift not just in the client’s feelings but the actual outcome that the client is experiencing in their life. I have worked with a really large no. of clients and many of them who had earlier been through therapy with other practitioners.

All of them invariably after the initial session, when they set the outcome, have informed me that they had a lot more clarity about their outcome and felt a lot more confident about achieving the same as they knew the specific changes they will experience in the future and most importantly they know the indicators to notice and observe these changes.

Before I end this let me answer one question:

Why is it important to ask the client to define a broader outcome before getting into more detailed specific outcomes?”

The reason is that the broader outcome is easier for the client to define as the client doesn’t need to provide too many specific details. The broad outcome also becomes a starting point from where you can ask the client questions to make it more specific. If you try to begin by asking the client to give you specific details, most clients find it more challenging.

Once you have the broad outcome, whenever the client is facing difficulty with providing more specific details, you can help the client bring back their focus on the broad therapeutic outcomes and then use it as a context within which the client can provide the specific details.

If you are a psychologist or a coach or aspiring to be one who wants to make it big, we would really recommend that you explore and understand the Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching framework

If you are already convinced and want to just know how can you become a Cognitive Hypnotic Coach, check out our Comprehensive Coaching Diploma