A Guide to Setting Therapeutical Goals

Let’s talk about goals! In the realm of physical therapy, goals are set around deficits or impairments to achieve specific desirable outcomes. Goals help us track and measure progress with our students as well as help guide & direct our therapy sessions.

There are many important criteria physical therapists consider & aim to include in our goals. These criteria are:

  1. Specific – We want our goals to be specific and have a narrow focus. Really broad goals or goals that contain multiple focuses are harder to achieve & measure. 
  2. Measurable – We want our goals to have some sort of unit of measure. Whether that unit be a time, distance, percentage of accuracy, and/or amount (such as repetitions or trials), this is one of the most integral parts of goal writing.  
  3. Achievable – We want to set goals that we know our students will be able to achieve.
  4. Relevant – We want to set goals that are relevant & tailored to each student’s needs. 
  5. Time-Bound – We also need a time component of when our goal will be met in order to be held accountable & stay on track.  

Now that we’ve discussed how we want our goals to be structured, let’s talk about the overall content of our goals. As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, school-based physical therapy must absolutely be educationally relevant and should only be provided if a student is not able to access their education, learn, or participate in school activities without these services. Thus, the goals must be geared to a student’s function in their school setting. I’ll provide some examples below. 

By the end of 2022-23 IEP year, Name will ascend and descend 4 steps with a marking time pattern, use of a handrail, and contact guard assist to improve independence when navigating the school environment or playground equipment in 4/5 trials.

By the end of 2022-23 IEP year, Name will navigate through the classroom with his gait trainer negotiating at least 3 obstacles in his path with stand by assistance and <5 verbal cues in 3 separate PT sessions.

By the end of 2022-23 IEP year, Name will skip 10’ with only an initial visual demonstration, without loss of balance, and with oppositional extremity movement in 4/5 trials to improve PE skills & overall participation in PE.

By the end of 2022-23 IEP year, Name will carry his lunch tray with stand-by assist negotiating around obstacles & peers without loss of balance or spilling his food with 80% accuracy on 5 consecutive occasions to increase his independence in the cafeteria. 

Another important consideration is that goals are never set in stone and can always be changed or modified if ultimately deemed inappropriate or unattainable for a student. Furthermore, while setting appropriate physical therapy goals is the responsibility of the school-based physical therapist, input from the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team, especially the teacher & the parents/caregivers should be taken into consideration when writing goals. Often, physical therapists will see a deficit or impairment that needs addressing, however there may be a more pressing issue that the teacher or parent may be aware of and like to prioritize. 

Hopefully, this gives y’all more information on the purpose of goals and the considerations behind setting goals!

See y’all next week!


Catherine C. Skelton, PT, DPT

Pediatric Physical Therapist

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