Mandatory: Making it Worthwhile


“I don’t want to be here. I’m not going to say anything. I don’t know. Why should I talk to you?” You may find yourself thinking or saying thoughts like these in response to pressures to engage from a program, family, or friends. Perhaps you aren’t ready to share what’s brought you here, or what the challenges are that you are facing in this moment. Perhaps you feel like your personal freedom has been taken away, your choice to participate of your own free will. Understanding that you may feel angry, resentful, or withdrawn, please consider the following in support of getting the most out of something that is identified as mandatory.


Blocking or Belonging

You may come from a different background or hold different values from those you come into contact with, so what brings people together in this process? Shared experience around homelessness, financial instability, substance abuse, conflict in relationships, or a lack support can help one feel less isolated and alone in their experience. Although each person’s story is their own, the feeling of connection to others and belonging can go a long way in having an experience feel less mandatory and more voluntary. When you observe others engaging in the program or group, you may find yourself asking:

  • Do I feel I can relate to others in the group?

  • Do I feel this community is healthy, approachable, supportive, and willing to engage me in this process?

  • Do I feel supported by staff and helping professionals to achieve my goals?

  • Do I feel comfortable opening up and working on myself in the presence of others?

For many involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they speak of the community as an equally powerful element as the 12 Steps in to their ability to actively participate in their own sobriety. Due to the friendships they make, they feel they have a connection to others in ways that feel encouraging and uplifting in moments of challenge or struggle.


Building Perspective

In addition to identifying a supportive community, how you approach the experience for yourself matters. Do you have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish both short and long term? Can you set yourself up for success in your work with others? When starting this process, it is helpful to understand basic needs as the foundation for progress. Educating yourself on how basic needs such as food, safety, and shelter provide the foundation of stability gives you permission to organize goals for success. Abraham Maslow, who identified this relationship in the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, emphasizes that only when basic needs are met can one focus on higher work around self-esteem, sobriety, and relationships.


Relational Rapport

When exploring relationships, research tells us that therapeutic rapport accounts for more than any other factor when measuring progress towards goals set in therapy. In other words, the therapeutic relationship, unconditional positive regard, and power of feeling seen, heard, understood, and supported has positive results on goal progression. If your past experience involves trust or mistrust, being aware of how therapy and/or relationships have helped or hindered you in the past can put current resistance and reluctance in perspective. A few questions that you may find helpful at ask at the first meeting with a helping professional include:

  • What kinds of clients have you worked with before?

  • How do you work with people who are uncomfortable with therapy?

  • What do you do with feedback from clients?

  • What can I expect from working with you?

All of these questions encourage healthy discussion around the therapeutic process and can provide insight into expectations and measurable goals when engaging a helping professional in your own growth process. 

Mandatory can feel restrictive and stressful when viewed as a loss of control or freedom. What better way to reframe it than to ask yourself, what can make it worthwhile? 

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Therapeutic Goal Setting: Measurable Motivation


As December comes to a close, your clients could be looking to the new year to create resolution or revisit their treatment goals in the hope of change. It’s a time to explore goals that are measurable and attainable; it’s a time to create small steps to build self-confidence so they remain motivated and hopeful. Perhaps your client comes into your office saying “I want to join a gym to help my depression.” You meet their disclosure with compassion and curiosity and ask them to share more. You learn they want to work out every day to help their mood but aren’t currently working out on a consistent basis, and not ever at a gym. So you find it important to explore with them their motivation as well as the perceived strengths and challenges of reaching their goal. Your client learns that smaller steps can support success and agrees to working on short-term goals to build confidence and to move towards their long-term goal of working out daily.


Monitoring Motivation

Why is it important to explore motivation around a goal? Research tells us goals around fitness and gym attendance peak in January and dramatically decline by February and March every year. Additional research tells us that we must do something consistently for a minimum of 30 days for it to become a habit. What this conveys to us as human beings is that we need to see results or progress to continue to work hard at a goal. You may normalize this for your client. You may also provide psychoeducation on the Stages of Change from Motivational Interviewing as a visual to support your client in identifying strengths and barriers to change. In meeting your client where they are at, consider the questions below to explore motivation with your client:

  • What do you want to change? (Precontemplation to Contemplation)
  • What makes that a problem for you? (Contemplation)
  • Is it a big enough problem to want something different? (Contemplation)
  • How would you achieve the desired change? (Preparation)
  • What do you need to support change? (Preparation)
  • What would help you to begin? (Action)
  • How will you know when you are ready for change? (Action)
  • What would help you keep going? (Maintenance)
  • Who/What would hold you accountable?
  • What would happen if you don’t succeed?

By engaging your client in exploring these questions, they can identify any current strengths or barriers to succeeding and further explore what is needed to progress through the stages of change.


Make it Measurable

It isn’t uncommon for a client to identify a goal but not know how to attain it, thus remaining in the stage of contemplation. It becomes our responsibility as their support to break down a long-term or larger goal into measurable, smaller pieces. Here are some examples of how to make it measurable when a client identifies a larger, more abstract goal in therapy:


Our therapeutic interventions can support short-term goals blending into long-term goals over time. By identifying and writing treatment goals that are measurable and can be reviewed with your client regularly, the effort it takes to achieve these goals can feel validated and attainable for your client.


Supporting Strengths

Validation can be a strong motivator. Helping clients slow down to identify their strengths throughout the process can be motivating in and of itself. It isn’t surprising that clients can find themselves stuck in the past, such as awareness of how they used to be able to achieve goals with no effort and frustration that they cannot find that same success today. Or perhaps they are so future focused they aren’t able to recognize the smaller changes that have taken place. One of the most rewarding elements of therapy can be reviewing goals and progress towards those goals. Your clients may be unable to recognize the small but important shifts in their functioning and therefore it can be impactful to help them remember where they started in this process and how their hard work is supporting healthy change. By identifying their strengths and supporting them throughout the process, clients can experience motivation and recognize goal progression, allowing the ongoing growth and change they seek.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama.