When you are handling something specific in session, there is usually a certain desired outcome of the process. There is something the client desires to gain from it. It is the goal for the process.
There are certain criteria that are involved in specifying a complete well-formed outcome. It can be specified explicitly with the client before the process, or the facilitator might let the outcome develop along the way.
Dialoguing to get an outcome specified is in itself a valid process. Sometimes that is all that is needed to resolve the issue. If the client finds out what she really wants, then often there is nothing more to it, she can go out in life and start doing it. That is, if it is a life-oriented outcome, like getting a promotion. If it is a session oriented outcome, like handling an unwanted feeling, then we need to do some more work on it.
These are the criteria that make up a complete outcome:
1. It needs to be stated in the positive. Getting rid of something is not in itself a valid outcome. What would one want instead that is valuable? It must be something specific and desirable.
2. There must be specific sensory input that would tell when the outcome is met. It must be testable whether or not one has it. And that should not be just an idea, but a specific perceptible evidence. How does one know that it has been accomplished?
3. The context must be specified. When is it wanted, where and with whom? To turn a desired outcome into reality we need specifics on where and how it will fit in.
4. The outcome must be within the individual's control. Hoping that somebody else will just behave differently is not a valid outcome. It must be something that the person herself is doing and maintaining. It should not depend on luck or somebody else's actions.
5. The outcome must fit into the ecology of the person's life. It must fit with everything else the person is doing or wants to do. How would having the outcome affect her life? Would there be a benefit from not accomplishing it? Are there any positive or negative side-products.
Over the course of a conversation you can get all these elements specified. As you discover elements of the outcome you can feed back the outcome to the client to check if that is what she wants.
The outcome will probably grow and change as it is being worked on. Possibly the person might find that what she wants is really something different from what she thought it was.
What we are doing is really discovering the parts that had been omitted. A goal or an outcome is not just an isolated abstract fragment with no relation to anything else. If it is going to work, it has to be very specific, it has to be placed within the context of the person's life, and we have to sort out any effects it will have on other things in her life.
Specifying the outcome can very naturally lead to a process of backtracking how she is going to get it. That is particularly appropriate with an outcome that she will work on in life.
Backtracking is basically that we move backwards from the outcome, finding what she needs to do, what she needs to do before that, and so forth, until we get back to something she already has started doing right now in the present moment. Then the future gets linked to the present and her outcome is on its way.
"What do you need in order to get the outcome?"
"What kind of resources do you need?"
"What do you need to do to get that?"
"What do you need to do before that?"
"What is the first step you can take now?"
"Is there anything needed for you to decide to take that step?"
Another process one can go into with an outcome is to go into the future and see things as if the person already has accomplished the outcome. Let them perceive what is there. What will they see and hear and feel? Let them take that knowledge with them back to the present so that they can be pulled forward towards the outcome.