ACRA uses SMART goals and suggests breaking down complex potentially overwhelming goals into several smaller ones (Godley, Meyers, et al., 2001; p71). 

Each goal should be accompanied by a timeframe and very specific observable behaviours or actions that will be undertaken to meet the goal (p72).  This can include independent commitments by the young person as well as things they can do with the worker, like learning problem-solving skills. The goal setting work can also be done completely verbally with adolescents who don’t want to fill out forms (p75).

Goals should be stated:

  • briefly and simply
  • specifically
  • positively: stating what the young person will do, not what they won’t do (Godley, Meyers, et al., 2001; p69) and stating what they are moving towards rather than what they are moving away from (Neenan & Dryden, 2004)

For example a young person can be assisted to turn problem statements into positive goals:  “I get angry all the time” becomes “I’d like to feel happier and be more easy-going”.

Identifying goals
The ACRA Happiness Scale assists in the assessment and goal setting process. It is compatible with a strengths-based, client-focused approach. The Happiness Scale can be completed in the early contacts with the young person as a way of developing goals, and when repeated during the treatment period, as a way of measuring progress.

Suggest to the young person that they look at their life holistically, instead of just focusing on the problem behaviour. A starting point for the conversation may be the areas of life they rated more highly on the Happiness Scale. This can provide insight into the young person’s strengths or the resources available to them that could be built on to achieve goals. Then move on to the domains that the young person rated as more problematic, and assist them to initially choose only one or two areas of life to work on.

Young people’s goals are usually recorded in a care plan or a treatment plan. In ACRA the Goals of Counselling form is used as the treatment plan, allowing the young person to define their goals and activities within the same domains as on the Happiness Scale.  It can also be useful for a young person to identify existing skills or resources that can be employed to achieve their goals.

The young person should be encouraged to decide which are the 2 or 3 most important goals to begin with, to reduce the possibility that they may feel overwhelmed by too many new tasks.

A quick win may stimulate enthusiasm for a more ambitious goal, so creating a goal that is achievable in the short term may be useful.

ACRA recommends weekly reviews of the goals, identifying any difficulties encountered and working with the young person to make adaptions or devise a new plan. It can also assist in keeping goals relevant and maintaining the young person’s motivation.

Goals can change in the light of new information, progress and changing circumstances (Neenan & Dryden, 2004; p66).

It may become apparent that initial goals were too ambitious or not specific enough. As efforts are applied to the original goals, new barriers or previously unrecognised resources and assets may become apparent and demand focused attention.