Goal Setting: A Rant
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 23, 2014
Lolly, twenty-five, female, said, after a recent flirtation with suicide, “I know I need to have goals,” leading me to feel she is parroting the mantra that goals give folks like Lolly a means to engage in life. “I think you need to work on your relationships, and in so doing, you will then want to accomplish your goals,” I say, highlighting the priority that attaching to others is the critical aspect of good mental health. Once again, I am struck by the inversion of so many treatment interventions, where the emphasis is on the concrete, and not on the emotional connection. Weight loss, for example, may be a goal, but the larger issue is wanting to be healthy so that one can enjoy the people who give their life meaning. Goals, outside of the context of relationships, are shallow, and short-lived, without a deeper connection, which involves deep feelings for others. Yet, in our age of metrics, goals can be measured, whereas relationships cannot be, and hence goals are often documented and discussed, at the expense of less linear activities. “What kind of therapy does Lolly need?” A student asks me. “She needs to develop agency over her life, where she designs a way of being in the world that has sense and meaning for her,” I say, emphasizing that being the author of one’s narrative is the “goal” but this “goal” is not easily seen or documented, and hence it is invisible to those who want to have “evidence” of improvement. So, should therapy intervene in a way that allows measurement to prove its usefulness or, should therapy be about developing narratives, which is, by definition, is more art than science? My opinion is clear and definite. Measuring improvement is antithetical to helping people make their way in the world. Each person has a different path, and so therapy helps in this individual, and hence not measurable way. This rant never gets old for me. Lolly’s life depends on it.