More on the Counsellor’s Creed: Setting Goals

One of Carl Rogers’ most important contributions to counselling theory and practice was to give up the idea of having goals, and be open to following whatever direction the client might uncover, wherever it might lead. What about Item 4, then: “It is important to discuss your goals with you. What brought you here? What do you hope to achieve?”

It is important to discuss your goals with you. What brought you here? What do you hope to achieve? What expectations do you have? How committed are you about finding solutions?

This is point four of the counsellor’s creed from which I drew food for thought in three previous posts (“The Counsellor’s Creed, “I cannot be your parent…””, “More on the Counsellor’s Creed: Clear Values, Professionalism”, “The Perfect Counsellor?”). It rests on a model of counselling as a kind of teamwork, a client-driven collaborative endeavour, with the finding of solutions as the goal. The tone is empowering, direct and open, gently prodding the client forward with the question about commitment. The whole tone sounds to me wholly appropriate to life coaching, and for some kinds of clients and some kinds of counselling. It will be inappropriate for others.

When I first went to counselling myself, many years ago, I was in a kind of distress. I found it very hard to articulate to myself let alone to anyone else. I was there because someone had suggested that I might be going mad. If I had been asked about my goals I would frankly have run a mile. There are plenty of people, the grief-stricken, for example, for whom the ‘finding solutions’ model does not fit. It worries me a little that a model concerned with the attainment of measurable goals is becoming so predominant.

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I think that counselling is about being with another person, a special way of being with them in the here and now, as they are. That means a lot of hopes, expectations and motivations will be unclear and will only become clear, if they ever do, in the course of the counselling. They cannot be explicit at the start. Discussion is not really the mode in which most counselling takes place. It’s more a slow process of sensing what is going on, and letting meanings emerge from that.

One of Carl Rogers’ most important contributions to counselling theory and practice was to give up the idea of having goals, and be open to following whatever direction the client might uncover, wherever it might lead. It’s a risk. The direction may not be a “positive” one; yet without this accepting attitude, accepting of uncertainty, “negativity”, aimless meandering and all kinds of mess, the essence of therapy itself disappears. It seems all the more important to hang on to that attitude of acceptance today.

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