Incentives: Help Clients Set Appealing Goals

Just because goals will help in managing a problem situation or develop an opportunity and are cost-effective does not mean that they will automatically appeal to the client. Setting appealing goals is common sense, but it is not always easy to do. For instance, for many if not most addicts, a drug-free life is not immediately appealing, to say the least.

A counselor tries to help Karl work through his resistance to giving up prescription drugs. He listens and is empathic. He also challenges the way Karl has come to think about drugs and his dependency on them. One day the counselor says something about “giving up the crutch and walking straight.” In a flash Karl sees himself not as a drug addict but as a “cripple.” A friend of his had lost a leg in a land-mine explosion in Iraq. He remembered how his friend had longed for the day when he could be fitted with a prosthesis and throw his crutches away. The image of “throwing away the crutch” and “walking straight” proved to be very appealing to Karl.

An incentive is a promise of a reward. As such, incentives can contribute to developing a climate of hope around problem management and opportunity development. A goal is appealing if there are incentives for pursuing it. Counselors need to help clients in their search for incentives throughout the helping process. Ordinarily, negative goals—giving up something that is harmful—need to be translated into positive goals—getting something that is helpful. It was much easier for Karl to commit himself to returning to school than to giving up prescription drugs, because school represented something he was getting. Images of himself with a degree and of holding some kind of professional job were solid incentives. The picture of him “throwing away the crutch” proved to be an important incentive in cutting down on drug use.

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