When questions don't help


3 Jun 2013 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory


Some types of question can be problematic in counselling and should be used sparingly

Closed questions
Questions can be unhelpful if they invite only a small range of short responses. They can tend to discourage the person from saying more, and can narrow the person’s choice of how to respond naturally:

  • How old is your brother? [a fixed number]

  • Did you go back there again? [yes/no]

  • Which year of the course are you in? [first/second/third, …]

  • What colour is your car? [white/blue/black/red, …]

Multiple questions
Asking more than one question at a time is usually confusing and is best avoided. The listener may be unsure which question to answer first, and may not be able to fully concentrate on any one of your questions because they are trying to keep in mind their answers to the others:

  • “What did you do next? Were you upset? What did she mean?”

  • “What do you think would help? Would you go back there?”

Rhetorical Questions
With these, the speaker doesn’t expect an answer because they assume that the hearer must already agree with them. They don’t help you find out more about the other person, and are likely to leave them feeling pressured to hold your point of view:

  • Who wouldn’t feel like that?

  • Isn’t that just like him?

  • Don’t you just cringe when someone says that?

Leading questions These put pressure on the other person to adopt a certain viewpoint, normally the speaker’s. They usually involve value judgements:

  • Wouldn’t it be better if you confronted her?

  • Do you realise that you’d be wasting your time trying to help him?

“Why” questions
Asking 'why' can feel challenging. For many people, it can feel like they are being asked to justify themselves. They may feel as if they have to defend their position and could experience the question as hostile, as a negative assessment of them:

  • Why did he leave you?

  • Why did you turn and run away?

  • Why did you feel like that?

  • Why didn’t you go back and help?


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