How can you help clients make lasting behavioral changes?

By Martin M. Antony, PhD, and Jenny Rogojanski, PhD

Changing behavior can be extremely challenging for clients, and finding ways to reinforce progress between sessions can be critical for successful therapy. In particular, the client’s environment, culture, or social context may act as a barrier to making changes outside of the therapy session. One strategy that may be helpful for overcoming this is to include a supportive family member or close friend as a “helper” who can motivate the client to make changes between sessions. At times, a client’s partner may not support the client’s efforts to change, which can interfere with progress. In these cases, it is particularly important to get the client’s partner on board.

Additionally, it is important to periodically review treatment progress and goals with the client, which can provide an opportunity to positively reinforce the steps they have taken. Praising clients’ efforts will help them internalize the personal satisfaction achieved through mastering new skills. To enhance motivation, it can be helpful to have clients compile a list of changes that they have made throughout therapy and to add to the list as treatment progresses.

If the client gets “stuck” or begins to experience difficulty making behavioral changes between sessions, it is sometimes helpful to prearrange check-ins over the telephone or through e-mail to encourage behavioral change between therapy visits, troubleshoot obstacles to change, and reinforce the client’s efforts.

When Perfect Isn't Good Enough Book CoverMartin M. Antony, PhD, is professor and chair in the department of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. He is director of research at the Anxiety Treatment and Research Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario, and past president of the Canadian Psychological Association. An award-winning researcher, Antony is coauthor of When Perfect Isn’t Good EnoughThe Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook, and more than twenty-five other books.

Jenny Rogojanski, PhD, completed her doctorate in clinical psychology at Ryerson University in 2013. Currently, she is a psychologist in the Mental Health Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

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