The Solution Flows From the Goal

Posted on September 20, 2012


You can’t get what you want, ‘til you know what you want. Joe Jackson

In therapy as in most areas of life, it is really helpful (perhaps essential) to know where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and how you want your life to be (i.e. you goals).  When you go to see your physician and describe your discomfort, it is generally assumed that you want the pain to go away.  Usually, that will involve treating the underlying problem, whatever pathology is the source of the pain.  The goal is fairly straightforward, “it feels like there is something wrong with my body, and I want it to feel right again.”  In other areas of life, the goal is not assumed and must be stated.  Asking for directions would be pointless without stating one’s destination.  Lewis Carroll wrote about such an exchange in Alice in Wonderland.

[Alice] was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off.

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

`Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’

An important part of the process of therapy is deciding where you want to go.  The “you” in this case is the client(s).  The client determines the goals for therapy and not the therapist.  Like the Cheshire Cat, the therapist can help you figure out which path to take once you both understand where you want to go.  Conflicted couples often are seeking peace, a respite from the fighting.  To that ends, I have heard couples suggest that the solution is to not discuss topics that lead to arguments.  This solution may buy a temporary peace, but it is a Faustian bargain.  It essentially sells the soul of the relationship to make the conflict go away leaving both partners feeling disconnected and leaving an elephant in the room that nobody acknowledges.  As we explore the goal within the context of the relationship, it is not only about deescalating the conflict, the goal generally involves connection and emotional safety in the relationship.  In the long run, these are the attributes of the relationship that make is satisfying, long lasting, and a safe haven through the trials of life.  In the middle of conflict, it may feel like one would give anything just to have a break in the battle (including leaving the relationship).  The desire of our hearts is to have someone who is there for comfort and support.  We all need to know that someone has our back, that we matter to someone.  How we develop solutions needs to flow from the goal.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).