Closed questions can be supportive for clients

Judicious use of open & closed questions can empower clients. Restricting the range of responses when some are inappropriate or unavailable demands more of the therapist, but can be more supportive for the client.

One benefit of speaking slowly is that you get to think about how you frame your questions. The considered use of open & closed questions is a therapeutic skill often mentioned in workshops and textbooks but neglected in practice.

Open questions can be used for initial information gathering (“Tell me about your childhood”) and closed questions used to clarify the information given (“Were you abused as a child?”).

Closed questions restrict choice of response. They allow only a handful of responses (eg: yes or no) without stepping outwith the frame of the question (“I don’t feel comfortable talking about that”). Many clients are insufficiently assertive to sidestep the question and may feel pressured into premature disclosure of information (or lying) by closed questions.

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Overusing clients’ names can mask inattention

Use of a client’s name to foster engagement may mask flagging concentration and inattention. Using a client’s name sparingly permits more accurate judgement of attention to the conversation or task.

“…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” (Carnegie, 1936).

Whilst using client’s given names uninvited can backfire, a genuine (and successful) attempt to remember and recall someone’s name can pay dividends.

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Hypotheticals encourage proactive supervision

Using supervision to plan ahead for common and uncommon events has advantages for therapist and client. Both gain when the therapist has considered their range of responses ahead of time.

Ideally, clinical supervision is proactive. You discuss the progress of your cases and identify opportunities to be developed and pitfalls to be avoided. Inevitably, some supervision is reactive. You describe a problem or crisis and decide how such a situation can be avoided or better managed in future.

Reactive supervision can be dispiriting, even disempowering. The supervisor is given the role of dispenser of wisdom to the supplicant supervisee. A directive supervisor can leave you with the impression that you are still a novice (whatever your actual stage of training) with much to learn. Hopefully, we all still have much to learn, including our supervisors.

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Rehearse answers to common questions

Clients are likely to have questions about our services. Some may be asked, others may remain unspoken unless raised by the therapist.

No information sheet can answer every question our clients may have. Even if one did, some wouldn’t read it and others might be unable to either read or comprehend the text. You should therefore be ready to answer, and in some cases, pre-empt clients’ questions.

As a supervisor, I have asked my trainees to explain the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist before ever meeting a client. Most have managed a reasonable explanation. The learning point was not the quality of the explanation but the confidence with which it was delivered: everyone was caught off guard by the question and so came across as unsure, defensive, even shifty.

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