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Questions Counselors Ask

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What should you expect from an “initial interview” with a counselor, social worker or psychologist? The answer is simple: you should expect easy, brain-expanding questions, questions and more questions. A “change map” is then made up to solve the problems that you’re needing help to better cope with.

THE FINE ART OF ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS

The fine art of asking good or directive questions is what counseling and the process of change and psychotherapy are all about. This article gives you a sample of questions to expect when you first meet with a counselor so you can stay calm and focused.

PRIME YOUR MENTAL PUMP

Following are 10 typical questions a psychotherapist will ask to prime your mental pump for positive change during the counseling process:

1. What brings you here?

In a session, it sounds like this: “It seems like you know yourself pretty well and have thought a bunch about what you would like to talk about here. People who show up here have courage galore, perhaps even a tad bit of exasperation. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you some questions, and take notes about what you say so I can keep it fresh in my memory. Oh, and feel free to interrupt me at any time or steer the conversation to where you need it to go. In your mind, what brings you here today?”

2. Have you ever seen a counselor before?

In a session, it sounds like this: “You seem pretty comfortable and confident coming in here and talking about the challenges in your life. Have you ever seen a counselor before? If so, how many meetings did you attend and for what issues? Did you achieve the results you sought, and did your results ‘stick?’ What one thing do you remember most that your previous counselor/psychologist/social worker told you? What went right…or what didn’t turn out the way you would have liked it to?”

3. What is the problem from your viewpoint?

In a session, it sounds like this: “Every one has a different perspective on what the problem is, and who or what the solution is. The point of counseling is to create positive changes as rapidly as possible without feeling hurried. How do you see the problem or how do you define it? Which difficult people in your life are causing problems for you? How do you get along with people at work? How would you describe your personality? What are three of your biggest life accomplishments? Who or what is most important to you in your life? What is the problem from your viewpoint?”

4. How does this problem typically make you feel?

In a session, it sounds like this: “We all have problems or challenges that we must face as we travel along life’s road. Are you an optimist or pessimist? By that, I’m wondering if you believe the proverbial glass is half-empty or half-full? How do you feel when a problem pops up unexpectedly? Although feelings aren’t right or wrong/good or bad, every problem has a way of making us feel one way or another. So, how does this problem typically make you feel? Do you feel sad, mad, hopeless, stuck or what?”

5. What makes the problem better?

In a session, it sounds like this: “How often do you experience the problem? What do you think causes the problem to worsen? Have you ever not had the problem or noticed that the problem went away all together? Have you tried certain tools, read books or pursued avenues in the past that have worked well to solve the problem? How does the problem impact your self-esteem or your sense of guilt? In short, what makes the problem better, if anything?”

6. If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life?

In a session, it sounds like this: “Setting goals creates a focus by which you can be a better manager of your life. Do you regularly set positive goals for your work life, love life and fun life? What is your attitude about change-do you like change or fear it? What are your positive change goals? How would you like to improve your life that would lead to you feeling more satisfied and happy? If we can find ways to make the problem better, perhaps we can find ways to greatly reduce or even eliminate the problem. If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life?”

7. Overall, how would you describe your mood?

In a session, it sounds like this: “Moods come and go like the weather. Some of us are moodier than others or pick up someone else’s mood like a cold. Still others are pretty thick-skinned about emotional events. In your case, what makes you feel anxious? Is your mood like a roller coaster, or is it pretty steady? What brings you down or makes you feel blue? What’s guaranteed to make you feel up? How do you get yourself out of a “bad” mood? Do you use drugs, alcohol, sex, money, etc. or other “mood soothers” to make you feel better? What have people close to you told you about your moods? Overall, how would you describe your mood?”

8. What do you expect from the counseling process?

In a session, it sounds like this: “Everyone who comes here expects something different from the experience. I believe you are paying me to help you achieve your positive goals as quickly as possible. Some people like to receive homework, some clients like to vent and have me listen, and others want a high level of back-and-forth dialogue or interaction. How do you think you learn best? Do you think of me as your communications and relationships coach? What do you expect from the counseling process? How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals? How might you undermine achieving your own goals? Do you blame anyone for your problem? Do you use good advice to grow on? How will you know when we are done?”

9. What would it take to make you feel more contented, happier and more satisfied?

In a session, it sounds like this: “On a scale of 0-10, how contented are you with your life? What keeps happening over and over again that frustrates you? What do people keep doing that you dislike, and what do you wish they would change? How do you typically handle irritations, aggravations and frustrations? Do you get mad easily? How does your anger come out? What would it take to make you feel more contented, happier and more satisfied? What baggage or resentments do you carry from the past? What wrongs have been done to you that you haven’t forgiven? What changes could someone make that would really make you feel happy? What has been a major life disappointment? Do you feel mad when you don’t get your way or lose control? Who is pulling your strings, and why?”

10. Do you consider yourself to have a low, average or high interpersonal I.Q.?

In a session, it sounds like this: “Would you rate your communication skills as negative, neutral or positive? How well do you get along with your life partner? Do you love your life partner? What positive relationship rules do you follow? How would you describe your relationship with your kids/grandkids. Do you get along with your siblings? How would you best describe your relationship with your mother(s)/father(s). What family conflicts have you been embroiled in recently? What relationship have you been in that you judged to be a failure? Who do you call upon when your heart is hurting to mentor you? Have you put time and money into improving your communication skills lately? What is your biggest vulnerability or Achilles Heel in relationships? Do you consider yourself to have a low, average or high interpersonal I.Q?”

WHAT ARE YOU GETTING YOURSELF INTO?

What are you getting yourself into with counseling? A very worthy personal and relationship change project. Aren’t these interesting and intriguing questions to know about someone…and about yourself?

CONNECTING EMOTIONALLY TO THE CHANGE PROJECT

Emotional intimacy is created when you know the honest answers to the questions above. Don’t be shy: Some 100 or so questions geared to facilitate change are customarily asked in an initial counseling meeting that lasts 45-50 minutes. The questions that counselors ask really make you think and open the door wide so that positive changes of all types can happen.

Dennis O’Grady is founder of New Insights Communications and a professional psychologist who understands that the best kind of talking, counseling and therapy is the kind that establishes good communications skills and focuses on change….change for the better, change for the future, change that helps the world go forward instead of spinning and spinning in place.

Dr. Dennis O’Grady provides executive coaching and professional development training in Ohio and surrounding states. Dennis is the author of “Talk to Me: Communication Moves to Get Along with Anyone” which is a leadership training and positive relationship workbook.

2 Comments »

  1. Study the difference between the coaching and counseling worlds. For example, do you prefer a more directive or a more non-directive approach? A talk coach focuses the problem-solving sessions on role-playing solutions and measuring the results. Expect rather fast results in most cases.

    Comment by Dr. Dennis O'Grady — September 8, 2006 @ 10:03 am

  2. Hi Dr O’Grady

    I found the fine art of asking good questions to be very helpful. I’m just starting out in private practice and I offer a 15-20 phone consult prior to establishing a therapeutic alliance. I had some ideas as to what I wanted to ask or know, but my word smithing is not that great. In school they teach you theory of psychology but you never really get a class on how to ask brain expanding questions to clients. Could you recommend a book or do you offer classes on this topic?

    Thank You

    Rhonda

    Comment by Rhonda — February 17, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

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