Top 5 reasons to help clients define therapeutic outcomes
As a psychologist or a therapist, how important do you think, is it to help the client define the outcome they wish to achieve from therapy? It is very important, isn’t it? But why is it so important? Let us explore the answer to this question in this video.
But before that, go ahead and subscribe to this channel so that we can share more valuable resources that will help you develop powerful therapeutic skills There are many reasons why setting therapeutic outcomes is very important, here are the top 5:
- It is the primary reason for the client to continue with subsequent sessions. Imagine going to a person who asks you to meet them let’s say every week without you being asked what will you like to achieve during these meetings. How motivated would you be to go for these sessions?
- Clearly defined outcomes help you develop rapport and create a strong therapeutic alliance. Both of these are very important for the client to support you during the therapeutic process and I am sure you already understand that to be able to support the client effectively, you need the client to support you during the process.
- The outcome or the goal gives the session a sense of direction and guides the therapists in creating a therapy plan. For example:
- Imagine trying to create a plan to meet someone without really knowing where to meet. How do you plan for that?
- Now you may say that I can plan along the way and you are right you can if it was just about you and your life but would you really like to do that with your client, especially when you can just ask the client what they want to achieve. It is a lot easier and more efficient.
- A well-defined outcome provides clear indicators for both the client and the therapist to measure the effectiveness of therapy. For example:
- Imagine hiring a person for a job who does not know what is the job that they are supposed to do.
- Now at the end of the month, you want them to show you how effective were they in their job. If they don’t know what job they were supposed to do or what you expected from them, how likely are they to show the effectiveness? When a therapist tries to work with a client without knowing what the outcome is, it is like being hired for a job without knowing what the job is.
- Even if you have done an amazing job the client has no way to measure your effectiveness in the long run. Yes, they may feel good as a result of work you have done together but then they can feel good watching a movie or in some cases while watching porn. Momentary feel-good is not a reliable indicator for the effectiveness of therapy by the client having achieved a clearly defined goal is, isn’t it?
- Lastly, goals help you understand when it’s time to end the sessions that the client is taking with you. Without goals or outcomes, therapy can literally become a never-ending process because neither you nor the client is sure what was the purpose of therapy in the first place.
In the end, I would like you to remember that knowing the outcome that one needs to achieve from therapy is a lot like knowing what fruit you want to grow in a garden. Everything from the seed you will plant to the type of nurturing you will provide to the seed and how much time you need to nurture the seed and the plant before it can relatively sustain itself depends on it.
Key Elements Psychologists must consider when helping clients define Outcomes
To understand the key factors that you must consider when helping clients define outcomes, it is important to understand what is the objective of the outcome being defined. I personally ask clients to define two different types of outcomes from the point of view of the overall objective.
- The objective of the first outcome is to get a broad understanding of what is the client looking at achieving or the direction that the client would like to work in and
- The second set of outcomes are more related to specific things they want to achieve in their life.
Once you know the objectives behind defining the outcomes, keep the following 5 key elements in mind so that the defined outcomes are clear and actionable.
Using Positive Words to define Outcome
First is that the outcome needs to be defined using positive words. I am not talking about positive thinking here. What I mean is that the outcome should indicate what the client is looking at achieving and not want they are trying to avoid.
So for example a client defines their problem as I feel angry about my partner when she doesn’t agree with me. Now when I ask the client to define their outcome, the client may say:
- I wish to learn to communicate with my partner more effectively and be calm even when she disagrees with me. Or the client may say
- I don’t want to get angry at my partner when she disagrees with me.
Can you notice the difference, how because the first sentence uses positive words, it gives us a clear direction about what the client wishes to do or achieve but in the second case while we know what the client doesn’t want, we still don’t know what is the outcome that the client wishes to achieve. The outcome doesn’t provide us with a sense of direction.
Including Context in Outcome
Second, even when the outcome is broad, it still needs to have a context. The context can be a person, a situation, or an area of life.
Take the following two examples:
- I wish to be completely calm at all times
- I wish to be calm while speaking to my wife.
Notice the first statement is too broad and as a practitioner, you may struggle with creating a therapeutic plan that covers every area of the client’s life. In the second sentence since the client mentions wife, we know that the area where we need to start with is the relationship and a therapy plan can be created for the same.
In case the client describes their desired outcome in a very generic way, just like the 1st sentence in our example, to help the client make the outcome more contextual, I will ask the client questions like
- Which area would you like to experience this calmness in first?
- Are there certain people or situations that come to your mind, when we can help you experience this calmness first?
The answers to these questions can then be added to the original outcome to make it more contextual.
Making Outcomes Client Centered
The third is that the outcome has to be something that the client wishes for and not something that they are saying because others expect them to do it. If the outcome is based on someone else’s want, the client may not take the interest they need, to work consistently towards the outcome.
This also means that you as a therapist can not decide the outcome for the client. That decision needs to be clients alone. If the client has multiple options and is confused as to which one to choose, you can use cost-benefit analysis or pros and cons analysis to help the client.
Making Outcomes Realistic and Possible
Fourth the outcome needs to be realistic and possible. This is especially true for outcomes that are time-bound. In my personal understanding outcomes are never really unrealistic but timelines can be. So during the setting of the broad outcomes, I will not include timelines. We will look at them during the more specific outcomes if required.
Outcome is dependent on client
Lastly, ensure that the outcome is about the client or dependent on the client and not someone else. So for example if the client says I wish my wife agrees with me. Notice how this outcome is about the wife and seems to be dependent on the wife. You want to explore this further and ask the client what needs to happen with you or what do you need to do or be so that the chances of achieving this outcome increase?
The client may say I need to learn to communicate calmly, clearly, and effectively in a way that is in sync with how my wife thinks and decides. Notice the difference. In the earlier sentence, it seems that the client is at the mercy of the wife, and in the second case, the client is more in charge of working towards the outcome.
The example I have given is a bit simplistic as the client was able to give the answer about the outcome that revolves around them just after the first question. In most cases, you will need to explore more.
NLP meta model can be a very very powerful tool to do that. More on meta-model in one of the later videos.
For now just remember that as long as the outcome is about the client, you will be able to help the client get there. It may not be as simple as this example but it is also not as difficult as many people think.
Let me now quickly do a recap of the key factors when defining the broader outcome. The outcome should be
3. Based on what the client wishes
4. Realistic and Possible
5. Dependent on the Client
You can use the expression Positive Contextual wishes are possible and dependent to remember these factors.
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