Every Coach, Counselor, and Therapist has to deal with the topic of client motivation and engagement. Without motivation, there’s no action, and therefore no progress.

If this topic is neglected clients may surprise you and quit in the middle of the coaching and tell you it’s just not working for them. Or you’ll see a constant lack of engagement from your clients, which makes your work harder and success impossible. Assessing the motivation, in the beginning, is therefore the most important step of every change process.


Each client is at a different motivation level. Here’s a quick overview of potential motivational stages:


  • Clients may feel that nothing is wrong, that there’s no problem, and therefore no need to change. This is common in couples therapy, where one partner feels the urge to change something while the other is okay with how things are.


  • Clients feel they may have a problem or that there’s a need for change, but they are unsure about why change is necessary and if they would be able to do it.


  • Clients have the wish to change or accomplish something but don’t know why (what’s the reason behind it).


  • Clients know they have a problem and change is necessary. They are already thinking about what to do to solve the problem and may start thinking of solutions and plans for change.


  • Clients come up with a plan for making changes and are ready to start acting.


  • Clients are maintaining changes they’ve already made and trying to sustain their accomplishments. This stage also recognizes that a return to old habits is possible and the aim is to prevent it.


A coaching client may be in any of these stages when they start working with you. Especially in couples therapy, it’s very likely that the partners are in different stages.

One person often thinks that the relationship is fine and only their partner has a problem. Often one of them is even „forced“ to be there („either you’ll go with me or I’ll break up“).

Assessing the motivation (Why) in depth should be done right at the beginning of any coaching, therapy, or counseling.


Ask your clients to honestly answer which statement is true for them to find out at which level of motivation they are:


  • Everything is fine. I don’t need to make any changes.


  • Maybe there’s a need for a change but I’m not sure.


  • I need to change something and am considering how to.


  • I have already started and tried to make changes.


  • I have already made changes and try to keep them going.


Once you know at which motivational level the client is you can go more into detail to explore the WHY (causality) behind their problem or their feeling.

Once you know what level of motivation the client is at, you can go into more detail. If motivation seems low or only mediocre, it is important to elaborate together with the client why he or she wants to work on this goal in the first place. Talking about this “why” makes the client aware of the actual desire or need (cause) behind the wish to change something.


In the further assessment of client motivation it is important to find out:


  • WHY do the clients want or need to make a change. What’s the causality and real reason behind their desire for change?


  • Are the clients willing to make a change?


  • Are the clients ready to make a change? Is the client ready to take action?



  • Is the motivation intrinsic ( coming from within) or extrinsic (influenced by external factors)?


  • Does the client want this change because they’re working towards a certain goal with a clear strategy and outcome in mind (Go-to Motivation)? Or is it just the desire to escape from their current situation (Away-from Motivation)?


„Go-to motivation“ or „Away-from Motivation“?

An example of the “Away-from” motivation is a client who plans a career change just to get rid of their boss, the colleagues, or the unsatisfying daily work routine. A “Go-to” motivated client would be one who finally wants to fulfill their dream of starting their own business.

Usually, the “Go-to” motivation is better, since the focus is on a concrete and positive goal. While with the “Away-from” motivation, the goal is solely to leave the current situation as quickly as possible. The focus is on something negative and not on a productive goal. So, if the client seems to be in an “Away-from” motivation, it makes sense to identify a „Go-to“ motivation and concentrate on this.


Two Reasons for a Lack of Client Motivation and Engagement in Coaching or Therapy

Some clients find it hard to make enough time for their change process. This is a readiness and priority issue. People want things to be different but their WHY is not strong enough. They find it hard to commit themselves to taking the action steps that are necessary to create change. Instead, they stay in their comfort zone with all their old routines and habits.

The second reason is low self-efficacy and low self-confidence. These people have little belief and confidence in themselves and are convinced that change is way too difficult or even impossible.

Even if the client seemed motivated in the beginning these issues ultimately prevent the engagement and motivation that is necessary for real change to happen. Therefore the coach, therapist, or counselor must address these issues to improve the chances of success.

The two factors can only be eliminated if the coach, counselor or therapist identifies and addresses them when they sense a lack of engagement and motivation. Once the client is aware of them, true intrinsic motivation can evolve, and the chances of success increase.


Another Client Motivation Indicator:

Paying close attention to the words clients use at the beginning of the coaching often offers additional insights into the actual motivation and will to change. Are they talking about change (indicates that the clients are aware that change needs to happen = strong WHY)?

Or are they talking more about sustaining the status quo (a sign that clients are not really ready to take action and change something)? The problem or “WHY” in this case is often not strong enough.


How to avoid client dropouts in Coaching, Therapy, and Counseling

Client dropouts are a huge problem in Coaching and Psychotherapy- Sometimes clients discontinue the coaching or counseling after a few sessions after they feel like they made some progress. They say that their problem really wasn’t that bad.

Thoughtful, and non-judgmental questions by the coach or therapist often reveal that the client just felt overwhelmed by the work and all the steps it takes to create true change. Also, other demands such as job and family play a role in this feeling. Once the coach identified that this is the real problem it becomes possible to discuss ways of dealing with this situation.


The Magic Key to More Motivation and Engagement in Coaching, Therapy, And Counseling

Motivation and Engagement go hand in hand and this article shows the key to more client engagement in any successful change process.

The exercises and questionnaires in the Goal-Setting Toolkit serve as a springboard to explore the „WHY“ and the real reasons behind the clients’ desire for change, which is the ultimate factor for client engagement throughout the whole coaching or therapy process.