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How to Benefit from a Cost Benefit Analysis

By Andrew McNaughton LCSW CADC

The Cost Benefit Analysis is a useful tool in determining the pros and cons of the potential outcomes of a difficult decision. Regardless of whether it is a potentially life altering decision, such as changing jobs, getting married, moving out of town, quitting drinking, ending a relationship, or something less urgent, like whether to go on a vacation, purchase a new HDTV, or leave work early to go to the Cubs game, utilizing the Cost Benefit Analysis tool can provide a structured approach to identifying long- and short-term pros and cons, and help in making an informed decision about whether to make a change in our lives. Many therapists use this tool to help clients during individual sessions, marriage counseling, and even family therapy as a way to make decisions in a healthy manner.

Please take a moment to review the Cost Benefit Analysis Tool (courtesy of SMART Recovery). This worksheet can be printed out, or it can simply be drawn as an x/y axis on a piece of scrap paper to create four quadrants. I will provide a specific example in a moment, but the general structure of the Cost Benefit Analysis Tool is to list the pros of making the change in the upper left hand quadrant and the cons in the upper right, then the pros and cons of not making the change in the lower left and right quadrants respectively. Once you have filled out all four quadrants, label your responses as short term (ST) or long term (LT) benefits or costs. Lastly, write today’s date on the Cost Benefit Analysis Tool. There is a chance you may decide to complete another Cost Benefit Analysis at a later date, and your responses may differ then. This can be a helpful tool to work through decisions both big and small outside of therapy sessions with your counselor.

Let’s look at an example of a common dilemma we may face: deciding to cohabitate with our significant other. Rather than go back and forth in our heads on the risks and rewards of making such a significant move, we can use the Cost Benefit Analysis to get a better understanding and clear picture of the potential outcomes of our decision. Working through your thoughts with the Cost Benefit Analysis can be a helpful way to lay out your thoughts and concerns without feeling the need for an individual or couples therapy session.

Here are some potential benefits of cohabitating: spending more time together, increasing opportunities for more frequent physical affection and intimacy, and pooling personal finances and material resources to save money for each partner in the relationship. Let’s look at potential costs of cohabitating: a sense of sacrificing privacy or personal space, or even losing independence or autonomy. Next, we identify the benefits of NOT cohabitating, which can include: maintaining or increasing a sense of freedom and control over one’s home environment. Lastly, let’s identify the costs of NOT cohabitating: less time to spend with a significant other, sustained or increased financial expenses associated with independent living that could be used towards the relationship, and more time spent traveling to and from each other’s homes.

These pros and cons are meant to be broad examples that will naturally vary from person to person, but hopefully illustrate how the Cost Benefit Analysis tool can provide structure to the hurricane of indecision that can exist in our heads when facing challenging decisions. When organizing thoughts and possibilities in writing, the priorities of those options can be more quickly evaluated, and opportunities for enhancing motivation and productivity can emerge more quickly. The Cost Benefit Analysis is a tool that can be used towards changing thoughts and behaviors, and is an essential part of Motivational Interviewing, a therapeutic technique frequently used to enhance motivation for behavior change. I encourage you to try it out for yourself, and seek feedback from trusted supports in your life when facing your next decision. To learn more about this technique and other tools to help you make decisions and improve communication, the team at Symmetry Counseling can help you find the right tools for you. Contact us today to learn more about our team and schedule an individual, couples, or family therapy session at one of our two Chicago locations!

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