The goal setting process is about helping your loved one think about what is important to them and developing a vision of what they would like their life to be. Research shows that working towards established goals promotes hope and enhances motivation.

What Are Recovery Goals?

Recovery  goals  are  objectives  that  a  person  sets  that  are  related  directly  to  their  recovery (mental health-based goals), and that may have been put on pause due to their mental health condition (work, family, physical health, social life, etc.) Recovery is not one size fits all. It is important to have a discussion with your loved one about what  is  most  important  for  them.  For  instance,  one  person’s  goal  may  be  to  live  independently once they have reached a certain point in their recovery, while another person may be content to live with a roommate or caregiver. It is important to remember that you are not there to do the work for your loved one as a caregiver. Goal setting should be a collaborative process as you assist your loved one through setting specific and challenging, yet attainable, goals. Once goals have been set, being supportive and encouraging of the choices that your loved one has made can help them stay on a path to recovery.

Caregiver Tips for Goal Setting

When trying to help your loved one come up with goals, think about the steps they will have to take in order to achieve their long-term objectives. Consider smaller actions and short-term goals that could be related or require the same skill set—anything you can think of that is realistic for the now. For example, if your loved one has indicated that receiving their GED is a long-term goal, suggest they start reading 30 pages per day of material from a topic that interests them and go from there. Furthermore, finding a topic that interests them may be a short-term goal in itself.

Finding out what is important to your loved one may be difficult at first. Here are some example questions to get the conversation going:

  • What would you like to be different about your current situation?
  • What do you like about your life now?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What do you miss about your life before recovery?
  • What makes you feel better, if only for a second?
  • What do you hope to be doing one year from now?

Being Supportive

Here are some tips for being a supportive caregiver during the goal setting process.

  • Do  it  together.  Find  out  what  is  important  to  your  loved  one  and  ask  questions.  Revisit what may have been put on hold because of their condition - such as their employment status, social or family life, dreams or aspirations. To get down to the core  of  a  goal  and  make  it  more  engaging  and  exciting,  ask  follow-up  questions  about what it would mean for them. The more you know, the better you can help them arrive at goals that are meaningful. 
  • Set  short-  and  long-term  goals.  For  a  person  recovering  from  mental  illness—especially  when  they  are  beginning  treatment—the  idea  that  their  life  could  someday be different may seem out of reach.  Achieving smaller, more immediate, measurable,  and  realistic  goals  can  help  generate  momentum  in  the  recovery  process. Goals like getting out of bed at a certain time can help one stay motivated and  focused  so  that  they  are  able  to  work  towards  long-term  goals,  such  as  reconnecting with family.
  • Keep  your  loved-one  accountable.  Caregivers  can  support  ongoing  and  long-term  goals  by  holding  their  loved  one  accountable  through  tracking  goals  and  celebrating  progress  along  the  way.  Gentle  check-ins  can  be  useful  to  monitor  progress. It is important not to make the loved one feel guilty if they are not reaching goals as quickly as anticipated, however. This can make the process more difficult, potentially prompting the person in recovery to be untruthful about their recovery progress.
  • Be flexible. The road to recovery is not linear. At times it may feel like your loved one is taking one step forward and two steps back, but even slow progress is progress. Priorities change, life happens, and you may have to make some adjustments along the way. Periodically revisit goals to ensure that the benchmarks you are focusing on still fit your loved ones needs and values at the time.
  • Remember your place. The ultimate goal of being a caregiver is to help your loved one experience recovery. They will be most successful in their recovery when they have  a  degree  of  control  and  are  actively  involved  in  the  process.  This  fosters  the  self-determination and independence needed for sustainable recovery.
  • Be  prepared  for  times  of  crisis.  Part  of  your  discussion  around  your  loved  one’s  needs  should  focus  on  what  happens  when  they  are  in  crisis  so  that  you  are  prepared  to  move  forward  together  when  you  are  the  only  person  to  act  on  their  behalf. If you must make decisions for your loved one or act without involving them, it should only be done as temporary crisis management. Once they have stabilized, you should help return them to pursuing their recovery goals.