Handling the Session with Good Interviewing Skills

It is important that the counselor always listen, not just to what the client is saying, but how they say what they are saying. Careful listening skills can lead the counselor to identify the root of a problem, and not be side tracked by the complainant.

Listen to what they say . . .

Clients will often unknowingly guide you in how to interview them by the things they say.

Molly says, “I love my husband, and I feel he loves me, so why do I sometimes feel empty inside?” Notice that she said, “Feel” when speaking of her husband’s love for her. She said “I love my husband,” but “I feel he loves me.” By using the words “I Love,” she is stating what she perceives to be real. By using the words “I feel,” she is indicating that she is not convinced of the truth of what she has said. These words are a clue to deeper problems she is experiencing than whatever she may be in your session speaking about. You should follow up that statement with a series of questions that will clarify your suspicions.

Questions like:

·       Why do you say the word “feel” about your husband’s love for you, but you don’t use that word about your love for him?

·       Are you unsure at times about his love for you?

·       Does he do things that cause you to “feel” that he may not fully love you?

·       Etc.

Paul is worried that his wife is having an affair. He tells you that he believes that this is true because “she doesn’t pay attention to me like she used to.”

Key words:

* pay attention             * me              * used to

The questions this statement should elicit from the counselor may include:

·       What do you mean by attention?

·       How much attention did she pay to you before?

·       What circumstances changed in your marriage when she stopped paying as much attention?

·       Did you have a baby?

·       Did you move from one home to another?

·       Did you or your wife lose a job?

·       Was either of you ill around that time?

·       Did you and she argue any around that time? If the answer is yes, then what were the arguments about?

·       Did someone else move in with you and your wife?

·       Did you have an affair, or any other kind of relationship (such as a friendship), with another woman?

·       Etc.

Ask Questions in Series

Asking a series of related questions is much more effective than just asking questions at random. Series questions allow the counselor to ask the same question from different perspectives. In example:

·       How long have you been having problems in your marriage?

·       How soon after you got married did the problems start?

·       What was the first argument that you both had with each other, and when did it happen?

·       What complaints does he or she have against you?

·       And so on.

Questions in series help you establish points of importance and relevance like:

·       When something may have started.

·       How long something has been happening.

·       How clearly the client understands what is happening to them.

·       Whether or not you understand what the client is saying.

·       What patterns may exist in the client’s life?

·       What they have “tried” in the past to resolve their problem or concern.

Questions in series help you and the client direct the session toward finding the real issues. For example, Julio came to counsel with you because he feels that he is losing control of his relationship with his wife because she is always angry with him for every little thing he does. He tells you that she said she no longer felt safe with him and maybe did not love him anymore.

Questions to ask are:

·       What are the things she says you do that bother her?

·       How long has she been complaining about them?

·       How did you respond to her complaints?

·       What changes, if any, did you make in your behavior?

·       How did she respond to your “changes?”

·       What would she say is the reason she no longer feels safe with you?

·       What are some things that you may have done that she might interpret as being unsafe for her?

·       And so on.

Let them talk it out

Many times people just need to let out their hurt by speaking. Do not get carried away by asking too many questions. Listen to what they say and either ask them to clarify what they may mean concerning something they said or verbally acknowledge that you are listening.

Clarifying what they mean.

·       Bill tells you that life confuses him.

·       You ask him what is confusing him.

·       He tells you that he just does not understand why life is the way it is.

·       You ask him what things in life bother him most.

·       He says he does not understand why bad things happen to good people.

·       You ask what bad things have happened to him.

·       He tells you that he lost his job, and his girlfriend has dumped him.

·       You tell him that those really are bad things, and then ask him what he plans to do now.

·       He tells you that he wants to find out what he is doing that is so wrong that things turned out this way.

·       You ask him what things he feels he may have been doing wrong on his part.

·       He tells you that maybe he did not pay enough attention to both his job and girlfriend.

·       You ask him what might have distracted him from those two things.

·       He tells you that maybe he was spending too much time with his friends and staying out too late.

·       You ask him what he thinks life might be teaching him through what he just said.

·       He tells you that maybe he should stop hanging around with his friends so much.

·       You ask him if the problem is the length of time he spends with his friends, or what type of friends he has.

·       He asks you what you mean.

·       You tell him that whom we hang around with can greatly influence the choices we make in life.

·       He responds that you make sense, that probably he should consider which of his friends are really best for him.

·       He thanks you for helping him come to an understanding of what may have happened, and vows to start making changes.

You should notice that in the above example the counselor did not try to control the session as much as just keep the client talking about his concern, but with the intention of guiding the client to a solution that he may think he arrived at himself.

Use Acknowledging Statements.

Sometimes you want to encourage the client to keep on talking; you are able to keep them going by acknowledgments.

·       Anita tells you that she feels that people do not like her.

·       You ask her, “Why do you feel that way?”

·       She tells you that everyone always ends up causing trouble for her.

·       You say, “Trouble?”

·       Yes, she says, something always happens that results in a problem between her and others.

·       You say, “Something?”

·       Yes, she says, either they start trouble or blame her for starting something.

·       You say, “Blame?”

·       Yes, she says, even if I do not say or do anything wrong they will find something to blame me for.

·       You say, “Why do you think they do?”

·       She goes on to explain why she feels that others make up stuff about herself.

·       You can keep a conversation going on for quite a long time this way.

·       If you reach a point where the one, or two, word responses do not produce the results you want, then you ask the client to explain something a bit better for you.

Have a motive or and objective when asking questions in series.

Knowing where you are going is the best guide for knowing what you need to do to get there. If you know what you are trying to get the client to tell you, then you will know what questions to ask. Do not assume that they will understand what you are trying to accomplish and make your job easier for you. Each question you ask in your series must build off the last one. In addition, each question you ask in your series must be a basis for the next one.

·       You ask, “What have you done to try to resolve your concerns?”

·       The client states that she has tried everything.

·       You ask, “Have you counseled before?”

·       The client says, “No, but I’ve tried everything else.”

·       You ask, “Have you made any real changes in your own behavior?”

·       The client says, “Well, no, but why should I make all the changes?”

·       You say, “So then you really haven’t tried too many things, right?”

·       The client says, “Well, ok, maybe you’re right.”

·       You say, “Are you ready to make changes now?

·       The client says, “Yes.”

Do not get sidetracked by your own questions. Moreover, do not be sidetracked by the answers your client gives you.

·       You say, “How are you doing today?”

·       The client says, “I’m doing fine, but the weather is so hot.”

·       You say, “Yea, it’s been hot for me too.”

·       The client says, “Do you also get a rash from the heat?”

·       You say, “Uh, no, uh, why don’t we get started with the counseling, ok.”

·       The client says, “Ok, but let me ask you a question, is it fair for others to judge us?”

·       You say, “Well, it depends on what they are judging.”

·       The client says, “Well, I think it’s not fair.”

·       You say, “Maybe we should get started with the counseling.”

·       The client says, “Ok, what do you want to know?”

·       You say, “How are you doing today?”

·       The client says, “I’m doing fine, but the weather is so hot.”

If the client brings up something in an answer that is of interest, but not part of the issue with which you are dealing, write down the thought, or make a mental note of it.  Random questions can disorient the counseling session and leave both you and the client unsatisfied.

Question Any Inconsistencies.

There will be times when the client makes a statement about something that does not match something else that they may have said before.

Example:  Joni told you, during the last session, that she did not feel that she had any problems with addictions or obsessions. During this session, though, she states that she has always had a problem with spending too much. Without bringing up the statement from the last session, you should ask Joni if she understands what an addiction or obsession is.

Once you and she conclude that any behavior that is harmful to a person that the person seems to be unable to terminate or change, but continues to do is an addiction, then you ask her why she told you she felt she did not have any problems with addictions, but still stated she had problems with overspending.

Becoming aware of inconsistencies in their thought patterns is extremely useful and beneficial to the client. These inconsistencies will also help you identify possible areas of conflict and needed resolution.

Elaboration and Clarification by Use of Synopsis.

To clarify major and/or important points it is often useful to give the client a synopsis of what you heard them say, and what you understood. This will help you by allowing the client to correct any misunderstanding on your part, and to fill in any holes that you may have missed. Secondly, it will show the client that you have been listening carefully to him or her. Thirdly, you both are able to finish the session confident that you both have enough information from that session to carry you until the next session.

Session Synopsis:

A.             Listen to every word.
B.             Ask questions in series.
C.            Let them talk it out.
D.            Use acknowledging statements.
E.             Have a motive or an objective.
F.             Question any inconsistencies.
G.            Give a synopsis.

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