Psychotherapy open questions is another extract from my 2016 presentation at the International Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Conference.
While as therapists we all know about active listening and open questions, I’m often asked by students and colleagues about examples of such questions.
These are the kind of questions that can open up a discourse, and help a client to reflect in an area where perhaps clarity may have been lacking.
So to try and help, I’ve prepared a short list of interesting questions that although sometimes too challenging to be used ‘raw’ as it were, can be framed more gently by the therapist.
These psychotherapy open questions have been gathered from various sources and I’ve used them (or versions of them) in therapy for some years, if any are of use then please feel free to incorporate them into your practice or self-reflection.
In no particular order then:
Why do you matter….? This question might initially ring some alarm bells but bear with me. Apparently one of Viktor Frankl’s questions with some depressed clients was to ask them why they had not taken their own lives? From that question, Frankl , it is said, could often find a thread (however slender) to begin to explore the meaning in the client’s life that kept them from doing that. This question comes from the same place, when self-esteem is challenged or low, a question in this vein can start a challenge to the negative self-talk and open up the client to challenge perhaps distorted beliefs.
What’s happened to you….? This is far subtler and touches upon how the client sees their own story. Have things happened to them? are they taking it personally when in reality they are collateral damage in something unrelated? Is the world unfair? Where does a lack of success come from, them or the outside pressures of the world? Again this question can open up many facets that may not have been visible before.
What do you want to achieve working with me….? I’m a great believer in sticking to the brief, what does the client want to achieve? This question can help clarify and set goals. It also has an element of de Shazer’s Miracle Question in there. The client can step even if only briefly into a future where the change has happened and ‘try it on for size’. Imagination is stronger than will after all.
What feels different…..? This is about seeing less in detailed pictures and beginning to connect with the feeling. That can be helpful in terms of chunking down to the root feeling that is driving the wish to change. Are you running away from something or towards something. It’s also a nice segue into the accessing of resource states for the client.
What am I doing to make life better for myself….? Here we begin to look at psychotherapy open questions centred around where we are at the moment. This comes from a solution-focused perspective, where are we now and where do we want to go? This can identify the differences between the two places and therefore sharpen that focus and highlight what’s missing.
What’s the one thing I can do today to make my life easier….? This has roots in the power of making a change today. It also touches on the step-by-step approach, if we tick off the easy things first, the little ones, we can begin to build the proverbial ‘yes ladder’ to achieve and create movement in the desired direction.
What does that fear need…..? From John Hartland’s theory that the client will only let go of symptoms when they feel ready to do so. This question allows the client to look at self-care, and what they already know about what they need to move on. Again it feeds into allowing the client to accept that they matter and that it’s ok for them to have needs. It can allow them perhaps to access the child within them and its needs.
And saving the best until last tell me about…? This is my holy grail of open and encouraging questions and is the glue that binds the rest of them together. If you only take one question from this blog, then I would suggest this is the one.
So hopefully these psychotherapy open questions will be of some use, please let me know any others you have that might helpfully be added to this list by email at email@example.com.
(Talking-Cure Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy)