Goal setting is traditionally aimed at keeping the work focused on the client’s agenda, containing the problem, and reaffirming the control that the client has in the process.
More recently some solution-focused therapists have come to see goal setting as the most central element of SFT. Goals orient the client to a future focus and provide frames for solutions that move the person beyond the reach of problems. Gingerich and Eisengart (2000) state that the main therapeutic task of SFT is “helping the client to imagine how he or she would like things to be different and what it will take to make that happen” (p478).
Even if a young person is not committed to engaging with services to work on solutions for AOD, offending or mental health issues, goal setting focused on other relevant issues of concern to the young person can be employed at various junctures.
Goals must be personally important to the client; they cannot be goals that other people have in mind for them. The way in which goals are expressed is critically important. They must be framed positively as desirable things that the person want to achieve or to have in their life, not as undesirable things they want to stop doing or to get away from (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p17).
Similar to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, goals in SFT should also be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time limited). Being overwhelmed by problems is often associated with being stuck in old failed strategies or behaviour patterns. Setting some small, specific and realistic goals that can be achieved within the brief time span of therapy can have the benefit of disrupting the old cycle and encouraging a quite different way of looking at the problem (O'Connell, 2005; p16).
When they are asked directly, many clients have difficulty identifying clear and achievable goals. They may be puzzled or demoralised by their problems and unclear about what a good outcome might look like. A variety of questions are employed to help elicit and clarify the clients’ goals and identify markers of progress to aim for. For example – How will you know that coming here has been worthwhile for you? What are your best hopes for this session? What would you like to change? How will you know that things are getting better? What will be the first sign for you? (O’Connell, 2003; p7 or O’Connell, 2005; p46).
Thinking in terms of incremental changes can be helpful - small steps forward that extend the work that the client is already doing (O'Connell, 2005; p47).