by Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

As 2018 kicks off, many people resolve to do something different. You might vow to hit the gym and get in shape or hit the books and exercise your brain. You might vow to grow professionally or take more time for yourself and schedule that elusive beach vacation. Whatever your plans, many New Years involve setting lots of goals…….and, hopefully, sticking to some of them.

Of course, goals in our professional lives are important. We strive to learn more, do better, and embrace novel ideas and ways of thinking. We also recognize the importance of goals inside the playroom. Without them, it’s hard to measure the progress of our child clients. And, importantly, it’s hard to translate that progress to their parents.

Inside the playroom, goals don’t involve concrete numbers. This might be in opposition to other areas of your life – you may strive to lose ten pounds, you may aspire to make 20,000 dollars more, you may hope to double your nest egg, or you may try to read 20 new books over the course of a year.  You set concrete numbers and then aspire to reach those numbers.

But this type of goal-setting doesn’t apply to play therapy. Instead, goals in therapy are set between you and your client and you and their parents; numbers need not apply.

So, how do you set good goals?  It starts with three golden goal rules.

  1. Goals must be measurable
  2. Goals must be age appropriate
  3. Goals must not be all or nothing

Let’s dive into this a little further.

Goals must be measurable – This means the goals should be user-friendly, easy to work with, and easy to remember. They should be something identifiable – both you and the parents must identify what it will look like when the goal is achieved. Why? Because when people can see that something is working, they’re much more likely to keep doing it.

Goals must be age appropriate – One of the biggest mistakes made in regard to goal setting is setting goals that go beyond a child’s age. Setting a goal that a four-year-old never hits or a five-year-old never throws a tantrum only sets everyone up for failure and frustration. Don’t set goal’s that are outside a child’s emotional capacity. Sometimes, this requires a little education for the parents to help them put realistic expectations onto their children.

Goals must not be all or nothing – Many parents come into play therapy with one wish: they want their child to be happy. But this is an example of an all or nothing goal, the type of goal that is nearly impossible to achieve; all or nothing gets you nothing more often than not. People are colorful, not black and white in their behaviors.  Rather than remaining inflexible in your focus, allow for plenty of wiggle room. Healing is a ladder full of rungs; it’s not an express elevator.  Try using words like “increase” and “decrease” instead of “never” or “stop” at the beginning of your treatment goals.  (Oh, by the way, consider trying this with your own personal goals too!)

So, now that we know what type of goals to set, why are they so important? It’s simple – goals showcase achievement, which helps parents and clients recognize the value of play therapy. Without goals, the small steps your clients take are easily overlooked.

Remember this with every new client you meet – you should be able to rattle off each child’s goals within thirty seconds or so. If you can’t, go back, regroup, and re-goal once more.

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