5 Ways to Help Your OT Client Achieve a Goal

5 practical ways to help your OT clients achieve a goal, from leadership coach, Daphne Scott, PT.

When our patients come to see us for therapy, it’s because they can’t do something they want to do—at least not in the way they would like to do it.

Therefore, a goal is immediately built into the patient-therapist relationship from day one.

Despite our best intentions, though, we can inadvertently take a simple desire from the patient and manage to complicate it worse than Medicare’s tracking of functional outcomes.

This probably happens in large part because of insurance and other bureaucracies, but botching patients’ goals occurs far too often in the rehab world.

This post is here to remind you, OT practitioner, of five steps that you can take to support patients’ progress toward pretty much any of their goals:  

1. Identify your patients’ many hopes

It isn’t uncommon for a patient to say that all they want is to be pain-free—or simply to return home.

As clinicians, we understand that this goal may not be entirely realistic.

And that’s why this is the point where we can sometimes get stuck. We often forget that, although these particular desires might be at the forefront of patients’ minds, they likely have many additional aspirations for their well-being.

The first response to a question is not always the best answer, and it’s our job to give our patients time to push deeper.

In, The Coaching Habit Book: Say Less, Ask More, Michael Bungay Stanier suggests that one of the most powerful questions you can ask is:

And what else?

Maybe they also would like to garden again—or simply sit comfortably and play a game of cards with their family.  

2. Put the emphasis on what is true right now

This might be the trickiest part of achieving any goal, because it requires letting go of the goal itself at certain periods of time—and instead, focusing on current reality.

This allows patients—and also, us as rehab professionals—to stay focused on what is being called for moment by moment.

When it comes to making treatment changes that allow for progress, it can only be done in the present.

Similarly, the path to achieve the goal is only found in the present, too.  

3. Focus on the little wins

It is surely the small steps along our journey that are the greatest part of moving forward.

Although the big moments are certainly fun to celebrate, staying aware of the little moments in progress is equally important. Appreciating those small wins keeps us from focusing too much on the gap between where we are and where we ultimately wish to go.

After all, too much focus on “the gap” only creates stress.

Think about those nights when you wake up and desperately wish to go back to sleep, but it takes forever. When all we focus on is going back to sleep, we become more and more stressed about not sleeping!

By focusing on the simple things with a patient, it makes the steps feel more achievable.

We also have the opportunity to see how much we are learning along the way.

4. Remember that goals only live in an imagined future

When we become hyper-focused on the goal itself, it can take away from the present moment––and this can cause us to miss the everyday meaning and purpose that arise even during our challenges.

If you think about it, a moment of simple conversation with a patient can seem like a waste of time if we aren’t chipping away at their end goals.

This can then cause our patients to get caught up in the idea that the only reason to attend therapy is to achieve the goal. And then, if progress isn’t seen soon enough, the patient can quickly lose steam and become filled with doubt.

Additionally, obsessing over end goals can cause those moments of connection, relationship, and rapport to become skipped over in service to an imagined future that hasn’t even happened.

5. Show gratitude

Perhaps there is no greater means of supporting our patients than expressing gratitude for what is here and now.

This isn’t to say we should ignore our challenges or goals, but instead, to remind us to appreciate what is in our lives right now. There are many things for which we can be grateful, even when life isn’t going as planned.

This ability to find gratitude in the moment has been shown to enhance our positive emotions, which allows us to broaden our perspective and build resources for the future.

Gratitude and appreciation are where it’s at when it comes to achieving any goal.


These simple steps can help us un-complicate the challenging moments that come with healing, recovery, and all the hard work that comes with achieving a patient’s goals.

Keep in mind that how we relate to goals as rehab professionals matters just as much, and it may be good practice to incorporate these five steps for ourselves, too.


About the Author

I first heard Daphne Scott speak at the Ascend Therapy Business Conference in Chicago.

You can imagine my surprise when I found my eyes welling with tears at a therapy business conference keynote. But, her talk on how love, not fear, is the greatest motivator is one that will stick with me.

Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed being part of her weekly email, and I encourage you to subscribe at daphne-scott.com.