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Setting Empowering Goals in Therapy

Originally Published on 10/17/2020

Thomas Robertson, LCSW,CSAC

Originally Appeared in the North Shore News


Early in my training as a mental health professional I was taught to see the therapist and client as fellow travelers along the path of healing. Some people call this type of relationship the “therapeutic alliance.” In this role the therapist isn’t there to tell the client where they must go, but rather to help remove obstacles that stand in the way of the client’s natural growth. For this to work it is necessary to agree on treatment goals as well as the steps for achieving them. This helps the two of you to stay the course and not get sidetracked on the path.


In my training I was also taught that treatment goals should be SMART, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These principles have been proven to be useful, but I have always felt they lack the warmth and the human touch that is needed for designing goals in therapy. Last year some of my social work students took this on as a challenge and added to this model to create goals that are SMARTEST. The EST here stands for Empowering, Satisfying, and Trackable.


I love the idea that treatment goals should be empowering. Many of my clients are survivors of different forms of violence and abuse. It has been said that the medicine for trauma is empowerment. When treatment goals are empowering the client is the one in charge. The client is better able to navigate the process of healing, and as mentioned, the therapist is there as a fellow traveler and empowers the client through the removing of obstacles. Working in this capacity is a great privilege, and I am again and again amazed to see the growth that comes with thoughtful goal setting in treatment.

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