How to create SMART therapy goals in counselling

Embarking on a counselling journey is a significant step towards personal growth and well-being. To make this process more impactful and goal-oriented, the incorporation of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) becomes a valuable framework.


In this article, I'll explain SMART goals and how they can shape a purposeful counselling experience.

Creating SMART goals in counselling

Specificity (clear and precise)

When formulating SMART goals in counselling, specificity is the cornerstone. Rather than a broad objective like 'improve communication', the focus should be on articulating precise aspects to address. For example, a more specific goal could be to 'enhance assertiveness in expressing feelings'. This clarity ensures that both counsellor and client share a common understanding of the objective, paving the way for targeted progress.

Measurability (tracking progress tangibly)

Measurability involves establishing concrete criteria to track progress effectively. For instance, if the goal is to reduce anxiety, a scale from one to 10 could be employed, with one representing low anxiety and 10 indicating high levels. This quantifiable approach provides a tangible yardstick to gauge advancements, fostering a more informed and adaptive counselling process and helping to show how far or near you might be to your goal.

Achievability (balancing challenge and attainability)

Ensuring that goals are achievable is pivotal. Striking a balance between challenge and attainability is key. Goals should be challenging enough to inspire motivation but within reach to maintain a sense of accomplishment. This realistic approach takes into account the client's abilities, resources, and commitment, fostering a positive and sustainable therapeutic journey.

Relevance (aligning with values and the client's treatment plan)

Every SMART goal in counselling should be directly relevant to the client's values and the broader treatment plan. This alignment ensures that the goals contribute meaningfully to the client's overall well-being and specifically address identified issues. A relevant goal sustains the client's engagement and investment in the counselling process, reinforcing its impact.

Time-bound (structuring progress with timelines)

Setting clear timelines for goal achievement is the time-bound element of SMART goals. This temporal dimension adds urgency to the process and facilitates progress monitoring. For example, a goal could be to 'reduce the frequency of panic attacks by 20% within the next six weeks'. This structured approach allows for regular reviews and adjustments, maintaining the dynamism of the counselling experience.

Work as a team

Implementing SMART goals in counselling is a collaborative effort. It begins with a discussion about the client's concerns and the identification of specific areas for improvement. Regular reviews become integral, ensuring that the goals remain relevant and achievable throughout the counselling journey.

In a nutshell

SMART goals provide a comprehensive framework for effective goal-setting in counselling. The emphasis on specificity, measurability, achievability, relevance, and time-bound nature enhances the likelihood of success, contributing to a more meaningful and fulfilling counselling experience.

As you start on your counselling journey, consider integrating SMART goals as guiding beacons towards positive change and personal growth. If you have questions or seek further insights, feel free to explore more with your counsellor.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9
Written by Natasha Kelly, BA (Hons) MBACP
Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9

Natasha is a counsellor based in London and online. Her passion lies in helping individuals build meaningful connections and foster strong rapport. With a deep understanding of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics, she has worked as a primary school teacher and as a freelance writer on mental health.

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