Therapy is about the fine art of asking directive questions. So what should you expect from your first appointment with a counselor, social worker or psychologist?
The answer is simple: You should expect easy, brain-expanding questions, questions and more questions. A “change map” (often called “treatment goals”) is then created to guide you in solving the problems that are currently plaguing you.
Here are 10 of the more typical questions a psychotherapist will ask to prime your mental pump for positive change during the counseling process. Following the question is an example of what it might sound like.
- What brings you here? “It seems like you know yourself pretty well and have thought a bunch about what you would like to talk about here. People who show up here have courage galore, perhaps even a tad bit of exasperation. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you some questions, and take notes about what you say so I can keep it fresh in my memory. Oh, and feel free to interrupt me at any time or steer the conversation to where you need it to go. In your mind, what brings you here today?”
- Have you ever seen a counselor before? “You seem pretty comfortable and confident coming in here and talking about the challenges in your life. Have you ever seen a counselor before? If so, how many meetings did you attend and for what issues? Did you achieve the results you sought, and did your results ‘stick?’ What one thing do you remember most that your previous counselor/psychologist/social worker told you? What went right, or what didn’t turn out the way you would have liked it to?”
- What is the problem from your viewpoint? “Everyone has a different perspective on what the problem is, and who or what the solution is. The point of counseling is to create positive changes as rapidly as possible without feeling hurried. How do you see the problem or how do you define it? Which difficult people in your life are causing problems for you? How do you get along with people at work? How would you describe your personality? What are three of your biggest life accomplishments? Who or what is most important to you in your life? What is the problem from your viewpoint?”
- How does this problem typically make you feel? “We all have problems or challenges that we must face. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? How do you feel when a problem pops up unexpectedly? Although feelings aren’t right or wrong, good or bad, every problem has a way of making us feel one way or another. So, how does this problem typically make you feel? Do you feel sad, mad, hopeless, stuck or what?”
- What makes the problem better? “How often do you experience the problem? What do you think causes the problem to worsen? Have you ever not had the problem or noticed that the problem went away altogether? Have you tried certain tools, read books or pursued avenues in the past that have worked well to solve the problem? How does the problem affect your self-esteem or your sense of guilt?”
- If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life? “Setting goals creates focus. Do you regularly set positive goals for your work life, love life and fun life? What is your attitude about change? What are your positive change goals? How would you like to improve your life to be more satisfied and happy? If we can find ways to make the problem better, perhaps we can find ways to greatly reduce or even eliminate the problem.”
- Overall, how would you describe your mood? “Moods come and go like the weather. Some of us are moodier than others or pick up someone else’s mood like a cold. Still others are pretty thick-skinned about emotional events. In your case, what makes you feel anxious? Is your mood like a roller coaster, or is it pretty steady? What brings you down or makes you feel blue? What’s guaranteed to make you feel up? How do you get yourself out of a bad mood? Do you use drugs, alcohol, sex, money, or other ‘mood soothers’ to make you feel better? What have people close to you told you about your moods?”
- What do you expect from the counseling process? “Everyone who comes here expects something different. I believe you are paying me to help you achieve your positive goals as quickly as possible. Some people like to receive homework, some clients like to vent and have me listen, and others want a high level of interaction. How do you think you learn best? Do you think of me as your communications and relationships coach? What do you expect from the counseling process? How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals? How might you undermine achieving your own goals? Do you blame anyone for your problem? Do you use good advice to grow on? How will you know when we are done?”
- What would it take to make you feel more content, happier and more satisfied? “On a scale of 0-10, how content are you with your life? What keeps happening repeatedly that frustrates you? What do people keep doing that you dislike, and what do you wish they would change? How do you typically handle irritations, aggravations and frustrations? Do you get mad easily? How does your anger come out? What baggage or resentments do you carry from the past? What wrongs have been done to you that you haven’t forgiven? What changes could someone make that would really make you happy? What has been a major life disappointment? Do you feel mad when you don’t get your way or lose control? Who is pulling your strings, and why?”
- Do you consider yourself to have a low, average or high interpersonal IQ? “Would you rate your communication skills as negative, neutral or positive? How well do you get along with your life partner? Do you love your life partner? What positive relationship rules do you follow? How would you describe your relationship with your kids or grandkids? Do you get along with your siblings? How would you best describe your relationship with your parents? What family conflicts have you been embroiled in recently? What relationship have you been in that you judged to be a failure? Who do you call upon when your heart is hurting to mentor you? Have you put time and money into improving your communication skills lately? What is your biggest vulnerability or Achilles heel in relationships?”
Emotional intimacy is created when you know the honest answers to the questions above.