Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Contracting of Goals in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Katie M. Heiden-RootesEmail author
  • Rachel L. Hughes
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_559


Therapeutic Alliance


Considered a significant portion of the therapeutic alliance*, the process of contracting goals sets the direction therapy is proceeding in order to reduce the presenting problem (Bordin 1979; Escudero et al. 2008).

Theoretical Context for Concept

The goals the client establishes are connected to a therapist’s conceptualization of the problem and interventions – derived from the therapist’s theory of change (Sprenkle et al. 2009). For instance, if a couple comes to therapy saying that they want to increase their “communication about difficult topics,” a Bowenian therapist may conceptualize the problem as resulting from low differentiation of self (e.g., fusion, pseudodifferentiation, or cut-off) in one or both of the partners. The therapist may then proceed to explore the family history of fusion using a genogram to accomplish the Bowenian goal of increasing differentiation of self of the partners and, thereby, increasing open “communication...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bordin, E. S. (1979). The generalizability of the psychoanalytic concept of the working alliance. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 16(3), 252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Escudero, V., Friedlander, M. L., Varela, N., & Abascal, A. (2008). Observing the therapeutic alliance in family therapy: Associations with participants’ perceptions and therapeutic outcomes. Journal of Family Therapy, 30(2), 194–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Johnson, S. M., Bradley, B., Furrow, J. L., Lee, A., Palmer, G., Tilley, D., & Woolley, S. (2013). Becoming an emotionally focused couple therapist: The workbook. Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  4. Sprenkle, D. H., Davis, S. D., & Lebow, J. L. (2009). Common factors in couple and family therapy: The overlooked foundation for effective practice. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Rachel Diamond
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Saint JosephWest HarfordUSA