Ask the right questions for good therapy

There is a well respected school of counselling which goes by the name “Solution Focussed Brief Therapy” This is not a great name as it gives the impression that if the help given is brief (i.e. quick) than it can never be as worthwhile as something that takes a long time, which must of course be deep and fundamental. I’m glad to say that this is just not the case. Thus there is evidence to show that most worthwhile changes happen early on in therapy. This demonstrates inter alia that the right help will make great and persisting changes quickly.

Anyway, back to brief therapy – of which I am a big fan.  Much of it is about asking the right questions.  These questions presuppose that change is possible and so begin to shift attention (i.e. open doors) to the “what” and “how” of change.

My seven top questions to ask

  1. The Point of Therapy question “When we have finished our work together how will you know that it has helped you?”
  2. The Miracle question “If while you slept tonight your guardian angel came down and sprinkled fairy dust on you so that all you problems were sorted but you knew nothing about that and so when you awoke, how would you know that something had changed…and how would your family/friends know?”
  3. The Exception question “When life was better, what was happening for you and what were you doing that were maybe different?”
  4. The Recipe question “If you were asked to give a recipe and directions for how life can be as bad as it is for you right now, what would this be?”
  5. The Smallest Thing question “What is the smallest change that you can make over the next week, in your thinking and action that you would be confident that you could maintain?”
  6. The Strengths question “When you look back you can see that you have displayed real strengths and capacities in surviving and at times prospering and achieving. What are these?”
  7. The Future question “When you look to where you might be in (X weeks, months or years), how clearly can you now see it and feel it”?

All of these questions are healthily presupposing and imagination moving. All can be buttressed by a further invitation request to imagine and feel it and have healthy reminders from the past.  All of these questions open doors so that a conversation can develop naturally and memories, metaphors and hopes can be touched that can be used in the subsequent trance work.

And finally, we have the “what do you want to say/how do you feel question.”  A version of this question will be expected to be asked at the beginning by the client and will indeed be normally be proffered by the therapist.  But often these are the wrong questions to ask and certainly if asked, to spend too much time with them, at least in that first session. And if an initial question is to be asked a version of “What is happening now that you want to change and which brought you here” question is altogether better.

It is normally preferable to leave the “how do you feel” kind of question to later sessions and then to invite the client to notice whether the problems/baggage now appear to be different and less burdensome.

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