Making a contract for change
What do you want from counselling or therapy? Do you have a defined goal (losing weight, finding a new job or having a relationship)? Or are you just feeling you want more from life without knowing exactly what?
In Transactional Analysis (TA), the concept of ‘contracting for change’ is used early on in any course of counselling and helps set a frame around the work for both client and therapist.
Crucial to the contract is that it is bilateral – it is explicit and agreed by both client and therapist.
Classically minded TA therapists will want to set up a very defined contract which sets goals and tasks (the way of getting there) for client and therapist early on. Whilst all TA therapists want to understand a client’s goals or reason for coming to counselling, more relationally minded TA therapists may leave the way of getting there more open.
The concept of contacting, like TA itself, grew as a reaction against psychoanalysis which was seen as overly authoritarian with the therapist calling the shots.
Contracting gives the client a greater sense of control, and may help them be more optimistic and motivated about change. Research indicates that contracting often leads to success in therapy. Where therapy is unsuccessful or clients leave early, it is often a failure in contracting – especially in differing expectations between client and therapist.
However, I believe that contracting in therapy must suit the client and where he or she is at the moment. Some clients genuinely do not know what they want. Forcing them into making a contract for change too early or too rigidly could make them feel inadequate and get in the way of finding out what they do need.
Above all contracts in therapy should be flexible, and should not get in the way of the relationship between client and therapist. As clients reflect on themselves more, they will discover new things about themselves and there wants and needs will change.