Choosing your Goals in therapy or counselling: A guide for young people is co-produced by Leanne Walker an expert with lived experience of using goals in her own therapy, and Duncan Law Consultant Clinical Psychologist.  It aims to give ideas and information to young people who may be in therapy or about to begin therapy or counselling but offers useful information to therapists and clinicians who work with young people. It is taken from the document ‘Goals and Goals Based  Outcomes (GBOs): Some Useful Information’ that can be downloaded here.

“We talked and they really listened – it was good to get ideas about what might help, and come up with a plan together.”

Young person aged 15

Understanding you

  • When you have difficulties it is helpful to try and understand them: where do these di culties come from and what keeps them there?
  • Often these are difficult questions to answer on your own and it can be helpful to work together with someone to explore the di culties and nd di erent ways of understanding them.
  • You may already be clear about what you want to change (we call these your goals) or you might nd it helpful to work together with your therapist or counsellor to help you decide.
  • Your goals could be made up of some things you hope to change in the short term and some things you hope to work towards in the long term.
  • Everyone is unique and so everyone’s di culties and goals are unique too.

What to expect

  • Your therapist or counsellor will talk with you to learn about your difficulties.
  • Sometimes it might be helpful (with your permission) to work together with other people who know you well –people in your family, teachers, youth workers – to get a better understanding of the problem and more ideas about what might help.
  • Sometimes a short questionnaire can really help you share important things that are hard to say.
  • Your therapist or counsellor will be interested in what you want to be different in your life – your goals, aims and hopes for how the counselling or therapy might help – and will work with you decide what you want to change.

Agreeing goals

  • For some people setting goals is quite easy and they know what they want, for others it can take a bit of time to get there. As we have said, everyone is unique!
  • Sometimes people need a bit of help shaping a goal to make sure it is doable.
  • The goal should be something you and your counsellor both agree you can work together on – this might need some discussion but the goal should always feel like yours!
  • Once you have agreed your goal it is helpful to write it down and for you and your counsellor or therapist to both have a copy.


  • Once you and your counsellor understand your goals, the next step is to explore together some of the ways you might get there.
  • Usually there will be a choice of things that might help – again, your counsellor will work with you to decide and you might and it helpful if they make some suggestions for you to choose from.
  • You should be helped to make the right choice for you and to be able to explore other options if the first choice isn’t quite right.

Tracking Changes

  • Sometimes it can help to rate how close or far away from a goal you already are – from zero to ten, for example.
  • You might agree to rate any changes every so often – you can track the changes on a chart like this [see page 34].
  • This can help you and your counsellor or therapist see how things are going.
  • It can help you both decide if the way you are working together is still OK or to see if something else might be better for you.

Getting close to your goal

  • Reaching your goals can be hard and most people don’t get there straight away – don’t put yourself under pressure to get to ten out of ten completely.
  • Counselling and therapy can help you get back on a track where you can continue towards your goals.
  • Keeping a record – like the charts we mentioned in the last section – can help in tricky times to remind you what you have already achieved.
  • And if things don’t work out you can get help again – we all need help from time to time!