All the activities of guidance and counseling should be structured in a way to reach specific ends. These are the goals of counseling.
From the initial counseling session with the client, the counselor must clearly establish the goals that should be attained by the relationship between the counselor and the client by the final session.
Counseling goals are predicated on the needs of the individual client and serve as the basis for judging the success or failure of the counseling relationship, which will either lead to termination (if successful) or referral (if unsuccessful).
The primary benefit of goals for counseling is to design the path which the counseling sessions will take and to establish a basis to measure the success of the counseling relationship.
Goals of Counseling
Below are the major goals and objectives that sponsor the activities of guidance and counseling. These goals can be further broken down to meet the specific needs of clients.
1. To foster the psychological development of clients
The primary concern of counseling is the psychological well-being and development of clients. One of the goals of counseling is therefore to assist the client with psychological disturbances and guide them towards peace and stability.
This includes enhancing their cognitive, emotional, intellectual, and social capabilities and functions. Whichever of these aspects of an individual’s psychology is facing some form of instability or disturbance, it will affect the entire being of the individual and hinder them from living satisfying lives.
A person suffering from anxiety will therefore benefit from counseling because that disturbs their psychological function. Cases like low self-esteem, phobias, depression, and loneliness are all examples of psychological disturbances.
2. To facilitate behavioral change in client
Another goal of counseling is to assist clients in experiencing changes in their behavior which is their responses to stimuli from the environment.
Behavior change does not only mean stopping a bad habit. There are three dimensions to change of behavior. They are increasing an existing desired behavior, reducing an existing undesired behavior, and learning a new desired behavior. These behavior changes also cut across different areas of the clients’ lives.
Many of the issues people face in their lives will be resolved if their behavior changes even just a little. A husband and wife always having disagreements might only need simple adjustments in their actions and responses to each other, not divorce.
These changes are usually possible if both parties are open to help and ready to change.
3. To increase clients’ understanding of self and their environment
Counseling aims to help clients understand themselves and their environment or situation better. Lack of understanding can give people frustration.
Understanding of self spans even basic things as a girl child approaching adolescence who doesn’t know why are pubic hairs are growing on her body.
The counselor must not only give accurate information but also give it in a systematic manner that will take the client from the level of understanding they have, progressively to the level of understanding needed for effective functioning.
So the counselor must not only tell the girl that it is normal to see pubic hairs. He or she must also take the time to explain to her what other things to expect and what precautions she should begin to take based on these developments. The counselor becomes a sex and sexuality educator at this point.
4. To improve clients’ ability to establish and maintain relationships
Humans are social beings. The quality of our lives is largely influenced by our relationships. These relationships start from the family we were born into, friends and close neighbors, and colleagues.
To be able to enjoy relationships, individuals must develop their social skills— the abilities to communicate clearly, have fun, make friends, leave friends, respond appropriately to offenses, and balance all of that with healthy alone time.
An important aspect of counseling is marital counseling, focusing on the relationship between spouses. This is another level of relationship that, although, operating on the basic principles of relationships, needs more attention and intentionality to be successful.
A counselor can help the male understand the psychology of the female better and vice versa. The counselor can also guide them in maintaining their relationship as they begin to raise children.
5. To enhance client effectiveness and ability to cope
We live in a world that is constantly changing. Coping mechanisms we developed or inherited from our parents when we grew up are sometimes no longer effective today. If we must continue to live our best lives and be effective in our daily activities, we must therefore develop new coping skills.
This is a major goal of counseling. These coping skills include the ability to maintain relationships as we saw earlier, the ability to balance work-life, effective study habits, and even the skills needed in careers.
Workplace counselors can help workers manage workplace stress and develop effective time management skills so as not to get overwhelmed by e.g. meeting deadlines.
6. To foster clients’ respect for the worth of self and others
Another objective counseling seeks to achieve is to take the clients to a point where they can appreciate, see worth in, and respect themselves as well as others. No matter the challenges the client is facing, the counselor must help them see that going to the challenge does not make them less worthy than other people.
For instance, a girl who was sexually abused by her dad might attribute the incident to the fact that she deserves to be treated badly. The counselor and counseling must get those thoughts out of her. Also, she should be helped not to begin to see men as evil beings.
7. To enhance the decision-making process and skills of the clients
As much as counselors are guides, the goal of counseling is not to simply tell the client what to do. Instead, the counselor should truly guide the client and take them through the decision-making process so they can begin to make informed decisions themselves.
If a client comes to a counselor with a divorce case, all the options and their consequences should be brought before the client and whichever is opted for, the client should fully know why.
This way, in case of a similar situation, the client can go through that decision-making process without the aid of a counselor.
8. To facilitate the maximization of clients’ potential
The ability to make decisions is just one of several potential the client has that need to be stirred up. Another aim of guidance and counseling is to get clients to a position where they begin to use their abilities, personalities, passion, emotion, intellect, and so on, in the best possible way in designing and living a satisfying life.
A client who comes to a counselor with difficulty in speaking up in social situations has the inherent ability to speak, only that they don’t know how. The counselor must then provide them with the needed enlightenment and assist them in honing their speaking skills, probably by guiding them towards overcoming the limitations that are suppressing that ability e.g. low self-esteem.
9. To assist clients to become self-actualized
In simple words, to be self-actualized means to get to a point where you are fully satisfied with who you are and all that you are doing with your life. If clients consistently continue to maximize their potential in every area, they are self-actualized.
Self-actualization does not necessarily come through hitting success like writing a bestseller. The process of researching, writing, planning the publishing, and marketing of the book, visualizing how people will be blessed by it, if that is what the individual wants for their lives can give a sense of self-actualization.
The counselor should guide the client, adjustment after adjustment, until they can say, “this is more like the life I want to live.”
Aims, Goals, and Objectives in Guidance and Counseling
What we have listed so far are the broad goals of counseling. Each of them can be further broken down into specific objectives as we have seen in various examples. Therefore, although these are the goals of counseling in general, the counselor must define a smaller goal for each client that should be achieved through their sessions.
In goal setting, three terms are used in differentiating ends based on their broadness; they are aims, goals, and objectives.
Aims are very broad and vague and cannot be measured. Eg to help the clients feel better or become better. Several things can be defined as feeling better and becoming better. It is too vague to base your guidance and counseling activities on.
Goals are more specific than aims just like the nine goals of counseling we have examined. Eg to give the client a deeper understanding of the situation. Although this is more specific, if this is all you work with as a counselor there will still be uncertainty because knowing that “your wife is not the problem— you are” is a better understanding for a husband but is not a solution.
Then lastly, we have the objectives of counseling. Counseling objectives are very streamlined so that you know the exact result you want to see and it can be measured. Counseling objectives are the goals counselors should set during the initial session with the client. To define counseling objectives, goals should be made SMART.
SMART goals in counseling
Setting SMART goals in counseling simply means breaking down the goals of counseling into specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time-bound objectives.
Specificity is the ability to pinpoint what exactly needs to be changed. Measurable means there are exact markers to tell when the counseling objective has been achieved.
Achievable means the specific improvement or change desired must be something that can truly happen. Reasonable means there should be a logical reason why the goal should be achieved. Time-bound means they must have a deadline for completion.
Examples of SMART Counseling Goals
The table below shows some examples of SMART goals compared to not-SMART goals both trying to address the same issue. Each row examines the different parameters of SMARTness.
|Parameter||Client’s issue||Not-SMART Goal||SMART Goal|
|Specific||Can’t tell his wife when she offends him and is suffering from the hurt because she keeps doing things he doesn’t like||The client should have increased ability to express his feelings to his wife||The client should be able to tell his wife when she offends him without feeling guilty about it|
|Measurable||The client is battling with people-pleasing||The client should overcome people-pleasing||The client should be able to say no to every request she receives without feeling bad about it|
|Measurable||Constant fights among a couple||The couple should have peace in their marriage||The couple should be able to live for 3 months without fights|
|Achievable||The client is battling excessive anger||The client should stop getting offended||The client should be able to get over offense without yelling or holding grudges|
|Reasonable||Marital conflict because the husband doesn’t like the fact that his wife spends too much time with other males||The wife should avoid talking to all males except her husband||The wife should not spend more than 15 mins talking to a male not her husband in a secluded place|
|Time-bound*||The client is depressed because things aren’t working out as planned||The client should stop worrying about his problems||By the fifth session, the client should be able to stop worrying about his exams for more than 3 mins even without a call-to-order from a third party.|
*The last row incorporates all the 5 parameters of SMART goals.
We have so far seen the nine goals of counseling and why counselors need to set goals at the initial counseling session. We have also examined the differences between counseling aims, goals, and objectives, and how to set SMART counseling goals.
If this roadmap of goal setting in counseling is followed, counseling will not just benefit individual clients; it will become a tool for national development.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.