Open ended questions for counseling

Therapy Questions Every Therapist Should Be Asking

Healing conversations are an art form in peril of being lost to our busy lives.

The ultimate goal of talk therapy is to enable the process of psychological and emotional healing along the continuum from the problematic toward a sense of greater mental wellbeing.

Although we often come to therapy with a problem, we also come as people who want to be heard and understood, feel like we matter, wish to learn self-compassion, and want to find partnership in helping us heal and see ourselves and our life situation in a different light.

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.

Richard Feynman

Progress in a therapeutic relationship cannot be made unless the client feels safe to speak their mind, and it is on the practitioner to create that climate of openness and transparency.

The process also often requires the clinician’s willingness to work diligently to help clients understand what they want, the patience to help them learn to own all aspects of themselves, including contradictory feelings, and the ability to create a safe space to allow for transformation to occur.

Most of what happens in talk therapy is accomplished through the skillful use of questions, but only second to a lot of active listening.

This article surveys different approaches to asking therapeutic questions meant for both practitioners and their clients and gives examples of how the quality of questions we ask can improve our lives. For more common therapy questions, see our related post: Classic Therapy Questions Therapists Tend to Ask.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

  • 7 Questions Designed for the First Therapy Session
  • Therapy Intake Questions to Ask Patients
  • 15 Useful Therapy Questions to Ask Yourself
  • 20 Couples Therapy Questions Designed to Improve Relationships
  • 30 Family Therapy Assessment Questions
  • The Family Therapy Questions Game
  • Therapeutic Questions for Youth
  • 15 Therapeutic Questions for Group Therapy Discussions
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

7 Questions Designed for the First Therapy Session

The first therapy session must focus on relationship building and creating rapport, which are necessary to establish an effective foundation for a practitioner–client relationship, often referred to as the therapeutic alliance. The outcomes of therapy are heavily dependent on the quality of this relationship (Lambert & Barley, 2001).

Ideally, the first therapy session should be a form of positive inception so the practitioner can set the stage for future interactions. Carl Rogers (1961) used to say that the therapist must create an environment where everyone can be themselves.

Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.

Shannon L. Alder

The very first question in therapy is usually about the presenting problem or the chief complaint for which the client comes to therapy, often followed by an exploration of the client’s past experience with therapy, if any, and their expectations of future outcomes of therapy.

1. What brings you here today?

For clients who need encouragement to open up, it may be helpful to remark on their bravery in seeking therapy.

For those who are at the other extreme and go into a lengthy and detailed explanation of their issues, perhaps having been in therapy before, it is best to listen empathically first before complimenting them on how well they appear to know themselves and how they have thought a lot about what they would like to talk about in therapy.

2. Have you ever seen a counselor before?

For those who are in therapy for the first time, observing how comfortable and confident they are in talking about the challenges in their life can help set the stage for further disclosure.

It may be helpful to set some expectation of what is going to happen in the therapeutic process by explaining how asking questions is at the core of the process and reassuring the client that they should feel free to interrupt at any time and to steer the conversation to where they need it to go.

If the client has seen a counselor before, it can prove very valuable to inquire further about their previous experience in therapy by asking about frequency, duration, and issues discussed during their previous engagements, as well as one thing they remember most that a former counselor told them.

An important aspect for gaging clients’ engagement in the process of therapy is asking them about what went right or didn’t turn out the way they would have liked in their previous therapeutic engagement, as this can point to where they place the sense of responsibility for their situation.

Inquiring if the client achieved the results they sought and if they have been successful in maintaining them outside of the therapeutic relationship can also provide valuable insight into their motivation for change.

3. What do you expect from the counseling process?

Establishing a mutual agreement and setting expectations for the engagement is crucial to making progress. Clients’ goals and preferences for the format and level of interaction need to be taken into consideration.

Some clients like to vent and have the counselor listen; others want a high level of interaction and a spirited back-and-forth. It is also important to inquire how the client learns best and if they like to receive homework.

Other examples of questions that can point to the tone and flow of future communications can include the following:

  1. How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals?
  2. How might you undermine achieving your own goals?
  3. How do you feel about using good advice to grow from?
  4. How will we know when we have been successful in achieving your goals for therapy?

Therapy Intake Questions to Ask Patients

Levy et al. (2018) analyzed records from healthcare providers and found that:

  • 45.7% of adults avoided telling their providers that they disagreed with their care recommendations.
  • 81.8% of adults withheld information because they didn’t want to be lectured or judged.

Many aspects of clients’ lives can influence their engagement and progress in therapy.

Indeed, questions about preexisting medical conditions, current and past treatments, medications, and family history are essential to the effective assessment of needs and the successful provision of therapeutic treatment. Therefore, having a clear picture of these details is a critical part of the initial intake process.

In order to gather this information securely and efficiently, therapists are increasingly drawing on digital technologies. For instance, using a blended care platform such as Quenza (pictured here), therapists can design and distribute standardized sets of intake materials, such as forms and agreements, that clients can complete on their own devices and at a time that suits them.

The benefits of providing intake forms digitally is that they can facilitate better documentation and record keeping for practitioners. Additionally, and unlike paper forms, they can be programmed to ensure no critical questions are accidentally missed.

It is important to note that while most therapists do not prescribe medication, many often partner with other medical professionals by making recommendations, particularly in instances when clients have been referred for therapy.

A complete adult intake form is included below and can be a useful guide for some of the issues that may require further exploration.

Adult history form
Patient’s name:
How did you get here today?
Walked Taxi Drove myself Driven by: _____________________ Bus
Person completing form (relationship to the patient):
Self Father Mother Son Daughter Interpreter Partner
Check any mental or emotional problems that you have:
Learning problems (needed special classes in school, learning disabilities, slow learner, brain damage)
Depression (often feeling very sad)
Anxiety (often feeling very nervous)
Hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t)
Trouble concentrating
Can’t get along with other people
Violent behavior
Drink too much alcohol
Use illicit drugs (cannabis, heroin, cocaine, etc. )
Memory problems
Check any problems below that apply to you:
Autism Seizure disorder Mental retardation Bipolar (manic depressive)
Schizophrenia Brain tumor Stroke Speech problems
Heart attack Brain injury Lost consciousness War or violent crime experience
Family history:
Marital status: Married Divorced Never married Widowed
How many times have you been married?
How many children do you have? Children’s ages?
Whom do you live with?
If divorced, when (your age or the year)?
If widowed, when?
Check any statement that applies:
My father died when I was_____
My mother died when I was_____
My parents separated or divorced when I was_____
I was raised by both parents.
Where do you live? Apartment Hotel Group home House                           Homeless Other
Where were you born? City Country
If you were born outside the USA, when did you come to this country?
Educational history:
Circle the last grade you completed: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7 8 9
Educational degrees: HS Grad GED Assoc. Bach. Master’s Doc.
College (number of years):
Were you in special education classes? Yes No
What was your grade average in high school? A   B   C   D   E   F
What language do you speak best?
Vocational history:
What types of work have you done (i. e., labor, cashiering, gardening, teaching, construction, etc.):
What was the longest time you stayed at a job?
What did you do at your last job?
When did you last work?
Why did your last job end?
Medical history:
List any medical (not psychiatric or behavioral) problems that you have been diagnosed with:
List all medications which you currently take:
Medication Dose (mg) Times per day For what problem?
Have you ever had surgery? List your age when you had surgery and the reason below.
Age: Reason:
Have you ever been hospitalized overnight for medical reasons other than surgery? List your age when you were hospitalized and the reason.
Age: Reason:
Mental health history:
Have you ever been placed in a psychiatric hospital?
If yes, list your age when you were hospitalized and the reason.
Age: Reason:
Have you ever seen a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist?
If yes, at what age did you attend sessions?
How long did you attend?
Reason you attended
Type of therapist (PhD, MD, School)
Has a doctor ever prescribed medication to you to help with depression, anxiety, behavior, or mental problems (such as Ritalin, antidepressants, etc.)?
If yes, age when medication was prescribed
To help with what problem?
Type of medication?
Did you ever attempt suicide?
If yes, how many times?
When was the first time?
When was the last time?
How did you try to do it?
Legal problems:
How many times have you been arrested or charged with a crime?
Never 1 2 3 4 5 or more
If yes, what crimes have you been charged with?
How old were you the first time you were in trouble with the law?
When were you last charged with a crime?
Have you ever been in jail or prison?
Alcohol and drugs:
How often do you drink alcohol?
Every day Few times a week Few times a month Once a month or less Never
Has drinking alcohol ever caused problems for you (other people tell you to drink less, legal issues, relationship problems)?
If yes, at what age did alcohol start to cause problems?
When did you have your last drink?
Have you ever used illicit drugs?
If yes, which ones? Cannabis Cocaine PCP Sniff glue/paint Heroin
Amphetamines Barbiturates LSD Other:
When did you last use a drug?
How old were you when you first used a drug?
Daily functioning:
Driving: Check the one that applies:
I have never driven a car.
I still drive.
I used to drive a car but haven’t since:
Are you able to shower, bathe, and groom yourself without help?
Are you able to get dressed by yourself?
Are you able to pay bills and keep track of money without help from other people?
Describe what you do in a typical day:

15 Useful Therapy Questions to Ask Yourself

We get into thinking ruts and routines and often function on autopilot without giving much consideration to the way we go about our day or spend our time and energy.

We can break this mindless cycle by asking meaningful questions of ourselves and reflecting deeply on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Many self-help therapy books have popularized a way of doing just that.

One such approach can be found in vastly popular notebooks that provide inspirational therapy quotes or reflective writing prompts that get our cognitive wheels spinning.

The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.

John Fowles, The Magus

Another important form of self-inquiry is to ask yourself questions that we can’t answer honestly in the presence of anyone else, probing and burning questions that we can often only answer for ourselves. They may require some reflection, examination of values, and perhaps writing, if only to organize our thoughts.

Here is a list of important questions we should revisit periodically:

  • Assessing our life satisfaction – Tools like the Wheel of Life (accessible via the linked post) or one of the many Happiness Assessments are a great place to start.
  • Exploring meaning in our lives – Our masterclass in Meaning and Valued Living is a great place to start.
  • Defining our values – value exploration exercises
  • Finding character strengths – VIA Strengths Assessment
  • Visualizing goals – SMART goal setting, tracking how we invest our time with experience sampling method or Miracle Question (included below)
  • Cultivating gratitude – Three good things exercise
  • Practicing forgiveness – Empty chair technique (included below)
  • Making bucket lists

Other useful questions are those that we can use to motivate ourselves. For example, appreciative inquiry questions focus on strengths and the propelling power our past successes can have on self-efficacy and motivation toward goal pursuit.

Here are a few examples of questions and prompts based on appreciative inquiry:

  • Think back through your career. Locate a moment that was a high point, when you felt most productive and engaged. Describe how you felt and what made the situation possible.
  • Without being humble, describe what you value most about yourself and your work.
  • Describe your three concrete wishes for your future.
  • Describe the most energizing moment, a real “high” from your professional life. What made it happen?
  • How do you stay professionally affirmed, renewed, enthusiastic, and inspired?

Sometimes, self-therapy can feel like chasing our tail, particularly for those who already live in their heads a bit too much and may feel a bit stuck.

The most important questions to ask ourselves at this point are those that allow us to evaluate whether we should be reaching for help and if our situation warrants considering therapy.

  • Have I struggled to be myself lately?
  • Has daily life felt harder lately?
  • Do I have a confidante who I can trust to be impartial?
  • Is there a big choice in my life I have been struggling with?
  • Is my worry increasing, and are my thoughts less logical?
  • Have I lost interest in things I used to love lately?
  • Have friends been avoiding me or saying they have been worried about me?
  • Am I just not bouncing back from something?
  • Do I have a habit that I keep secret from others that causes me ongoing shame and life problems?
  • Do I spend most of my time feeling worthless compared to others?

20 Couples Therapy Questions Designed to Improve Relationships

Dr. John Gottman, an expert marriage therapist who has observed couples for over 40 years, tells us that we have a very high chance for miscommunication in close relationships (Gottman & Silver, 2015).

How do we cope with those unfavorable odds? Through acceptance, the practice of active listening, and the realization that relational conflict is an opportunity for growth.

Lack of acceptance is often an important component of relationship gridlock, as it causes both people to feel criticized or rejected (Gottman & Silver, 2015). There are always two points of view, both valid and right, from within each perception.

The need to be right prevents us from actively listening to each other. Communicating fundamental acceptance instead of rejection of the other person’s personality is therefore basic to all effective problem solving.

Active listening requires practice and comes down to moving from self-informed certainty to curiosity about the other person. It helps to adopt an “and stance,” where both stories are valid, the world is complex, both partners can get angry, both contribute to the situation, and both are doing their best.

Couples can improve their odds of having a productive talk by (Gottman & Silver, 2015):

  • Finding things in common (Gottman and Silver recommend having good Love Maps of each other)
  • Getting to know each other’s flexible and inflexible areas for negotiations
  • Offering to help meet the core needs of another person
  • If gridlock seems unavoidable, figuring out if we need a temporary compromise

What often happens in couples therapy is an equivalent of the two people getting to know each other in a different way, improving communications, and learning that conflict can be an opportunity for growth.

Some of the most common questions explored in couples therapy include:

  • Why choose today?
  • How did you decide to come to therapy?
  • What brought you together in the first place?
  • How does your relationship affect your levels of joy?
  • What do you wish your partner would do more?
  • How do you cultivate trust in your relationship?
  • Describe your level of satisfaction with intimacy in your relationship.
  • How would you rate your communication skills: negative, neutral, or positive?
  • What positive relationship rules do you follow?
  • In the recent past, what did you do when your partner disappointed you?
  • How much can you recall about what your partner did last week?
  • How would you describe your other relationships, like those with family and friends?
  • 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?
  • What is your most significant vulnerability or Achilles heel in relationships?
  • What is your relationship forecast for both now and in the future?
  • What counseling questions do you hope aren’t asked?

30 Family Therapy Assessment Questions

Some of the most important relationships in our lives can be both a source of happiness and the greatest struggle at the same time. The closest people in our lives influence in no small degree who we become as a person and shape our view of the world around us in significant ways we often underestimate.

Some approaches to family therapy employ systemic interpretations; for example, depression may be viewed as a symptom of a problem in the larger family.

When a family seeks counseling, the questions focus on the relationship’s dynamics, everyone’s met and unmet needs, and goals for the relationships. Assessing these factors, while it may seem complicated at first, is nevertheless worth the time.

Dysfunctional communication patterns within the family can be identified and corrected through teaching family members how to listen, ask questions, and respond non-defensively.

The genogram is one such tool used in family therapy. It’s mostly a family tree that provides a visual representation of three to four generations and explores how patterns or themes within families influence their current behavior and identifies whether relationships in the family have been close, distant, or ridden with conflicts.

It asks about values, beliefs, traditions, characteristics, and habits of family members, including health issues, alcohol and drug use, physical and mental health, violence, crime and trouble with the law, employment, and education. See Simple Guide to Genograms.

Some of the questions about relationships between family members include:

  • Who are you closest to?
  • What is/was your relationship like with… ?
  • How often do you see… ?
  • Where does … live now?
  • Is there anyone here that you really don’t get along with?
  • Is there anyone else who is very close in the family? Or who really don’t get along?

When exploring patterns and themes, good questions are:

  • Who are you most like?
  • What is … like? Who else is like them?
  • Did anyone else leave home early?
  • Is anyone else interested in art/science/etc.?

The following questions may also help explore the family background and family dynamics:

  • Who is important to you in your life? Why are these particular people important?
  • Who provides the most support in your life?
  • How have members of your family reacted to the problems that you are currently experiencing?
  • Are members of your extended family aware of what you have been experiencing?
  • What was it like growing up in your family?
  • Perhaps you could talk about some of the memories, both good and not so good.
  • What is it like for you right now living in your family?
  • How do you think your family might describe you? What qualities or strengths might they say you have?
  • Are there members of your extended family who you feel close to or feel that you have something in common with?
  • Did you feel safe in your family?
  • How does your family handle disagreements?
  • Is it okay to express your emotions in your family? To feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, content, etc.?
  • Tell me about your different family members and how they express their emotions.
  • Were there times when you were worried about any of your family members? Why were you worried? How were these concerns handled?
  • What qualities do you bring to your family that are special or unique?
  • Were there any special activities that you did together?
  • Did your family mix with other families?
  • What other information would you like me to know about your family that will be helpful during our time together?

The Family Therapy Questions Game

One of the most effective ways to address family dynamics, particularly when it involves children, is by playing games. It removes the formality and allows for interaction to unfold in a nonthreatening way that often brings out the best in all participants.

While it is fun for the children, it also allows the adults to regress for a moment and get down to the level of being playful and spontaneous. In the end, we find out that we don’t know as much as we thought we did about the most important people in our lives.

The family conversation starters below can be used in a family therapy session as well as at home. They can and should be personalized in a way that is age appropriate and has a specific goal in mind: to bring family members together, help them communicate effectively, express their emotions, or move toward constructive problem solving.

Another great activity known as ‘What will they say?‘ encourages family members to guess what another family member will say in response to a question (Lowenstein, 2010).

It allows family members not only to get to know each other better, but also to develop skills in asking each other questions, understanding that there are things that are similar between family members and things that are different. Finally, it helps make the point that family members, especially parents, may not know as much about each other as they think they do.

Create at least 20 questions, such as:

  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is your favorite dessert?
  • Who do you think gets angry the most in the family?
  • Who cries the most in the family?
  • Who laughs the most in the family?
  • Who watches TV the most in the family?
  • Who gives the most support to you?
  • Who gives Mom/Dad the most support?
  • What would the family member on your left like to get for their birthday?
  • Who is the best at following the rules?
  • Who sets the most rules?

To use these games effectively, it helps to make sure the questions connect to a family goal. The game can move reasonably quickly, giving everyone a turn and ending the session on a high note. Finally, many existing games, especially games and activities the family is already familiar with, can be adapted to provide an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.

Therapeutic Questions for Youth

There is no time more ridden with unanswered questions and throbbing with urgency as in our youth.

As teens grapple with discovering their identities and setting directions for their lives, it is an excellent opportunity to set standards for a self-reflective and inquisitive mind that is open to honest discussions and not afraid to ask questions.

As the saying goes, if we ask good questions, we get better answers. Below is a list of questions most frequently used in therapy with pre-teens to young adults and that anyone might find interesting.

  • What is the best compliment you have received?
  • In your opinion, what is the best song ever written?
  • If you could know one thing about the future, what would it be?
  • What is something you feel nervous about right now?
  • What is your happiest memory?
  • What is something that you did that you are proud of?
  • If someone’s underwear were showing, would you tell them?
  • I get mad when…
  • What calms you down when you get angry or upset?
  • What is your favorite animal and why?
  • My favorite sound is…
  • What is your favorite green thing?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  • If your house was burning down, what one item would you grab and why?
  • Name two anger management techniques.
  • Name two positive values.
  • Name two ways you can show self-control in the school setting.
  • What would be the title of your autobiography?
  • Do you think people talk differently online than they do in person? Why?
  • What is one item you can’t live without?
  • What would you do if you were hungry and a lunchbox was left open and unattended?
  • What is better, giving your money or giving your time?
  • If you could add, change, or cancel one rule in your school, what would it be?
  • What does “habit” mean, and why is it hard to change?
  • Who do you trust the most and why?
  • Where do you feel the safest and why?
  • If you could change one rule that your family has, what would it be and why?
  • What is one word you would use to describe your family and why?
  • How do you think others view you and why?
  • If you could travel back in time to years ago and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
  • What five words best describe you?
  • If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be and why?
  • What does respect mean to you? Give an example.
  • What do you like the most about yourself?
  • If you could give one gift to every child in the world, what would it be and why?
  • What do you think is the most important job in the world? Why?
  • Tell us about a time when you felt sad. What helped get you through it?
  • What is the first symptom you notice when you feel mad?
  • Give two examples of acts of kindness.
  • Who is someone you consider a real-life hero and why?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Who do you wish you had a better relationship with, and what would make it better?
  • Share a time where you sought attention in an appropriate way. And in a negative way?
  • Choose one person in this room and compliment them.
  • Give two examples of communication with a teacher who accuses you of something you didn’t do.
  • Talk about a time when you witnessed someone being teased. What effect did the teasing have on that person?

One assessment tool that is particularly useful in work with young people with complex needs is the ecomap. It is a visual representation of current family relationships and also community and social networks where clients are encouraged to identify whether their relationships with their peers, school, social clubs, professionals, are strong, weak, or stressful. See Queensland Government Interview Resource – Ecomap.

15 Therapeutic Questions for Group Therapy Discussions

Group therapy serves two distinct goals. While it addresses exploration of issues very much in the same way that individual therapy does, it also serves the purpose of finding ourselves in the environment where we feel less isolated from other people because many of those in the room share similar struggles.

Just as in individual therapy, clients often enact the same tendencies they bring to all their other relationships, and the client interaction within a group can often be a good reflection of how they show up in the relationships with other people in their lives (Yalom, 1983).

While the therapist is trained in delivering structure for the discussion and guiding the questions, the biggest benefit lies in the exchange between participants. Leaders within the group are usually appointed and tasked with looking for commonalities among members and encouraging everyone to be supportive of each other.

Most group therapies are done in a round-robin discussion format. Rules of conduct are established and adhered to, roles assigned for leaders of the group, and the room set up usually in a circle to encourage collaboration and everyone having a voice. Questions used in group therapy often focus on very much the same themes as individual therapy and include the reasons for being there and the expectations for the future.

  • Let’s start by spending a few minutes talking about the benefits of group therapy and what positive psychology groups are about.
  • Let’s go around and have each member tell us what you expect to get out of the group
  • Where else might you have been at this moment if you hadn’t come to this group session today?
  • What might you have chosen to do?
  • Is it your own decision to come here, or did someone else encourage you to do so?
  • How do you feel about coming here each week?
  • What do you like best about this session?
  • Is there something you don’t enjoy about this group session?
  • Are you particularly looking forward to anything?

Depending on the purpose of the group, be it anger management, bereavement, substance abuse, etc. , the content and the topics of discussion may vary. Although in a typical session, several topics and questions are provided, group leaders need not ask all questions or address all topics; instead, questions and topics should be selected as they relate to what is happening in the group. Some general questions could include:

  • What brought each of you into the group?
  • Tell us two or three words that best describe you.
  • Now, thinking about those words, how do they relate to why you are here?
  • What is your favorite thing about yourself, something that makes you feel positive and proud to be you?
  • Is there something new that has happened in your life recently?

Homework assignments and progress logs can be used between sessions, and educational material and handouts may be distributed. Many sessions start with reviews of progress and end with a recap of the activities.

A Take-Home Message

The value of deep, probing questions need not be reserved for the therapy session. There is no reason why we can’t have more of these healing conversations in our lives, but it is both an art and science and requires some practice. We can all get better at asking questions we want answers to, and applying the therapeutic approach to the process of self-discovery can prove a worthwhile endeavor.

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.

Claude Levi-Strauss

What questions do you think are important to ask, in therapy or not?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

  • Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. Harmony.
  • Lambert, M., & Barley, D. E. (2001). Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(4), 357–361.
  • Levy, A. G., Scherer, A. M., Zikmund-Fisher, B. J., Larkin, K., Barnes, G. D., & Fagerlin, A. (2018). Prevalence of and factors associated with patient nondisclosure of medically relevant information to clinicians. JAMA Network Open, 1(7).
  • Lowenstein, L. (2010). Creative family therapy techniques: Play, art, and expressive activities to engage children in family sessions. Champion Press.
  • Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. 
  • Yalom, I. D. (1983). Inpatient group psychotherapy. Basic Books.

Counselling Microskills: Questioning - Counselling Connection

Questions during the counselling session can help to open up new areas for discussion. They can assist to pinpoint an issue and they can assist to clarify information that at first may seem ambiguous to the counsellor. Questions that invite clients to think or recall information can aid in a client’s journey of self-exploration.

Counsellors should be knowledgeable about the different types of questioning techniques, including the appropriate use of them and likely results. It is also important to be aware and cautious of over-questioning.

Asking too many questions sends a message to the client that the counsellor is in control and may even set up a situation in which the client feels the counsellor has all the answers. In determining effective questioning techniques it is important to consider the nature of the client, their ongoing relationship with the counsellor and the issue/s at hand.

There are two main types of questions used in counselling: (1) Open and (2) Closed.

Open Questions

Open questions are those that cannot be answered in a few words, they encourage the client to speak and offer an opportunity for the counsellor to gather information about the client and their concerns.

Typically open questions begin with: what, why, how or could.

For example:

  1. What has brought you here today?
  2. Why do you think that?
  3. How did you come to consider this?
  4. Could you tell me what brings you here today?

“How” questions tend to invite the client to talk about their feelings. “What” questions more often lead to the emergence of facts. “When” questions bring about information regarding timing of the problem, and this can include events and information preceding or following the event. “Where” questions reveal the environment, situation or place that the event took place, and “Why” questions usually give the counsellor information regarding the reasons of the event or information leading up to the event.

How? Most often enables talk about feelings and/or process.
What? Most often lead to facts and information.
When? Most often brings out the timing of the problem, including what preceded and followed it.
Where? Most often enables discussion about the environment and situations.
Why? Most often brings out reasons.

It should be noted that care must be taken by the counsellor when asking “why” questions. Why questions can provoke feelings of defensiveness in clients and may encourage clients to feel as though they need to justify themselves in some way.

Closed Questions

Closed questions are questions that can be answered with a minimal response (often as little as “yes” or “no”). They can help the counsellor to focus the client or gain very specific information. Such questions begin with: is, are or do.

For example:

  1. Is that your coat?
  2. Are you living alone?
  3. Do you enjoy your job?

While questioning techniques can be used positively to draw out and clarify issues relevant to the counselling session, there is also the very real danger of over-using questions or using questioning techniques that can have a negative impact on the session. The wrong types of questioning techniques, at the wrong time, in the hands of an unskilled interviewer or counsellor, can cause unnecessary discomfort and confusion to the client.

Observation Skills

By accurately observing non-verbal behaviour, a counsellor can gauge the affect her/his words and actions have upon the client.

For example, when a client enters into the office of the counsellor, the counsellor can gain some indication of how the client is feeling about the session (are they reticent, comfortable, awkward?) by the way the client walks in, takes their seat, and greets the counsellor. If a client is resentful about the counselling session taking place, they may keep their eyes lowered, seem dismissive of the counsellor and sit in a closed position, not encouraging communication.

A counsellor can also gauge the effectiveness of their words by carefully observing the facial expression and eye contact of a client. If a counsellor asks a question that the client may find embarrassing to answer, the client may lower their eyes, or their head, or look away. This will tell the counsellor that the client might be uncomfortable with that statement or question.

Open questions - Plerdy

Open questions are a powerful tool for understanding the client. They help to better understand the consumer.

The main area where open-ended questions are used is sales. Whether you're selling machines or software, open-ended questions are helpful. But what are they?

A feature of open-ended questions is that they initially require detailed answers. It is impossible to answer them “yes or no” - they encourage the interlocutor to a long conversation. By asking open questions to your customers, you automatically motivate them to share their opinion about the product or provide additional information about themselves.

Despite the simplicity and triviality of this tool, its effectiveness has long been proven. Open-ended questions can be formulated in different ways. The form of their submission is also different: survey, pop-up forms, e-mails, questionnaires. You can also embed open-ended questions in one of the stages of the purchase confirmation - thus additionally stimulating the user to answer them.

Using open-ended questions helps improve the service or product you provide. But to achieve the result, it is important to understand which questions will work for you.


  • Examples of open questions
  • How to ask open questions?
  • Open-ended interview questions
  • Open-ended sales questions. Example
  • Open questions
  • Open questions for preschoolers
  • Open questions for poll
  • Open questions in consultation
  • Conclusions

Examples of open questions


The thoughtful question determines the effectiveness of the above answer. The more right questions you ask your customers, the more useful their answers will be.

Do not assume that any open question can be productive. Each niche and each product has its own set of specific questions. They are aimed at studying the client's impressions, his wishes and comments on the product. However, there are a number of simple open questions that you may find helpful.

  1. What is your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. What will you do when you get a job with our company?
  4. What are your plans for the evening?
  5. What kind of cuisine do you like?
  6. What is the most important thing in life for you?
  7. What would you like to change in your work?
  8. Why does your product look like this?
  9. How can we help you?
  10. What was your college experience like?
  11. How do you feel about home delivery?
  12. Why does everyone think that fast food is bad?
  13. How to get to the embankment in your city?
  14. Which specialty do you like best?
  15. What about corporate ethics?
  16. What products do you buy most often?
  17. What shop do you miss nearby?
  18. Why did you like this series so much?
  19. Do you think it is worth changing something in this product?
  20. Why are you sad?
  21. Which restaurant are we going to today?
  22. Why don't you like this musical style?
  23. What kind of music do you listen to most often?
  24. Why do you like taking pictures so much?
  25. What do you think about the changes in work schedule?

Each of the listed questions is open and prompts the interlocutor to answer in detail. The information provided by the respondent can be productive for a variety of reasons. Using open-ended questions when approaching customers gives you the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and concerns. After analyzing the received data, you can create a new product and make it popular. You will have a reason to make changes to existing products, making it competitive. A few simple open questions can make a big difference in the success of a business.

How to ask open-ended questions?

No question will help your business if it is asked incorrectly. This principle also applies to open questions. To achieve maximum efficiency, you should follow some rules. They will help to formulate questions more precisely and expand the amount of information received.

Principles that will turn any dialogue into useful data for business.

Use open-ended questions instead of closed ones

There is always a question-answer pattern in any dialogue. During working communication, interlocutors exchange questions - most often closed ones. Do you want to receive as much useful information as possible? Learn how to turn closed questions into open questions. Instead of “Did you enjoy dinner?” - better ask: "What did you like pasta bolognese?". Such a question definitely encourages you to answer in detail.

Start conversations with open-ended questions

One of the most common mistakes managers and salespeople make is trying to end a conversation with an open-ended question. Yes, sometimes this strategy works, but the share of useful information after the conversation turns out to be negligible. Use open-ended questions to start a conversation - this way you can significantly increase the amount of information collected. If one sentence leads the interlocutor to another, it means that the questions you asked were correct.

Be careful

Be prepared for the fact that the answers may lead the dialogue to branches. Always listen while talking to the interlocutor. If you want to avoid a particular topic and get back on course, you can always ask a question to steer the conversation in the right direction.

In addition to applying the above rules, consider in advance the value of each open-ended question you want to ask. This is how a whole strategy is formed, thanks to which you can get the indicators you need.

Open-ended interview questions

Using open-ended interview questions is one of the best strategies for finding good people. Open-ended questions will help you find out not only the information you are interested in about a person, but also predict his behavior in the future. Sometimes the smallest detail can say more than the most extensive summary. and influence decision making. A number of well-designed open-ended questions will tell you exactly how a new specialist will behave when he gets into the scenario of a normal working day.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions to use in interviews:

  • Describe your ideal job.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Where do you see yourself in two years?
  • What do you see as your strengths?
  • What achievements are you most proud of?

Interview questions are unlimited. When planning your interview strategy for new hires, you should create your own checklist. Focus on the characteristics of the industry - get the information that is of the greatest value to you.

Open sales questions. Example

Sales is the niche in which open-ended questions are most in demand. Non-failure providers of intelligence - questions are used in all niches of sales, regardless of the type of product and the size of the company.

Sales open questions have a number of differences. They are aimed solely at obtaining information about the client and his impressions. Based on customer responses alone, you can create an effective marketing strategy in no time.

The following are examples of open trading questions:

  1. What challenges do you face every day?
  2. How can you influence the current situation?
  3. What tools do you lack to achieve your goal?
  4. Is there a risk that you will not be able to solve the problem?
  5. What do you think of our product?
  6. What can you say about our cooperation?
  7. What do you think your specialists lack in order to achieve the desired result?
  8. How much time do you spend tracking leads?
  9. What prompted you to take on this project?
  10. What are your business goals?
  11. What do you want from our cooperation?
  12. What opportunities do you see right now?
  13. Do you think our product needs any changes?
  14. How has our product affected your problem?
  15. Why did you become a client of our company?
  16. What product do you think we should create next?
  17. What problems did you face today?
  18. How do you think changing this area could improve your daily work?
  19. How would you describe the service level of your ISP?
  20. What steps would you take to solve your problems?
  21. How do you rate suppliers in your service area?
  22. What changes are you concerned about in this industry?

Answers can make a real difference in your business. That is why open-ended questions are so popular among companies of all sizes.

Open and closed questions

But not only open questions work for our benefit. One-word answers to closed questions can also be used for marketing purposes. The statistics of answers to a closed question is always higher than to an open one. Why? Saying “yes” or “no” is much easier than arguing. Let's use it! In addition, short answers to a closed question are much easier to analyze.

What can closed questions be used for?

You can't squeeze a lot of information out of them. But answering such questions works great when evaluating a product in a survey format, where the answers for customers are already prepared. Thus, the percentage of users who answered increases - they do not need to write a detailed answer.

Short answers help you quickly and accurately assess the situation. The question at the end of the checkout “Did you like the cooperation?” explains: is everything in order with the user experience on the company's website. The question “Are you satisfied with our product?” will provide an opportunity to evaluate the success of the company's developments and their real value from the point of view of customers.

Closed questions are also used in large surveys. If you plan to receive responses from 1000+ respondents, using closed questions will make it easier to analyze responses. You will save time, and the statistics of answers will be many times more accurate.

Open-ended questions for preschoolers

Back to open-ended questions - today they are used not only in commerce. They can (and should!) be used in the systems of training and development of the younger generation.

Open-ended questions for preschoolers help stimulate their logical thinking. Such a question cannot be answered in monosyllables - the child needs to work hard and compose a detailed answer to the question posed. By asking difficult questions, parents gradually prepare the little person for further education and life in society.

Also, open-ended questions have a positive effect on the development of linguistic skills, which will undoubtedly benefit any child, regardless of age.

When introducing open-ended questions into learning processes, start with elementary ones:

  • What can be done about it?
  • Why do you like this toy?
  • What do you think this dinosaur looked like?

By asking your child open-ended questions, you automatically encourage him to come up with exhaustive answers. This skill will not only be useful at school, but will also help you communicate with society in the future. How did we know about it? Conducted a survey of experts!

Open-ended poll questions

Polls are one of the best ways to get opinion statistics. Let's consider its features. Questioning is a chance to get to know the point of view of different people. Using statistics, you can understand the opinion of the majority. Surveying consumers is an integral part of developing a development strategy and interacting with a company's customers. Surveys will help to close the “holes” in the user experience – this will positively affect the comfort of consumers.

Decide which specific question type is right for you. Experts divide open questions for data collection into 5 categories, namely:

  • Customer Behavior Questions - Gain insight into why users make certain decisions.
  • Customer Feedback Questions - Designed to learn what customers think about the company and your products.
  • Proof of Concept Questions - Used to explore customer feedback on a company's new product concept.
  • Marketing Research Questions - Used to evaluate marketing strategies. Allow to evaluate the effectiveness of the developed plans, the need for improvements.
  • Competitive Analysis Questions - Used to evaluate the competitiveness of your products relative to other companies.

Questionnaires based on open questions of the right type contribute to success in a niche. Regular, well-designed surveys will identify problems in user experience, weaknesses in marketing strategy, and other elements of business development.

Open questions in consultation

Any consultation requires honesty from the client. But not every client is ready to immediately talk about their problems. That is why open-ended questions are widely used in counseling and therapeutic purposes.

By motivating a person to have a frank conversation, a specialist thereby simplifies his work. He will not have to independently look for the source of problems - the client himself will tell about the reasons for seeking advice.

Open-ended questions always encourage detailed answers, which is important for experts in all industries. In medicine, a detailed answer to a doctor's leading question can shorten the duration of treatment. The task of the psychotherapist is to bring a person to a frank conversation and help him cope with the accumulated problems.

For the effectiveness of consultations, it is important to learn how to correctly build open questions. In this way, you can speed up the process of understanding, identify the problem to the client faster and find a solution more quickly.


Do you have any questions after reading this article? Open or closed? Joking aside, the importance of open and closed questions for marketing research is really great. By using the right questions, you will be able to connect with the client and better understand their needs. Of course, only if you listen carefully to his answers.

Leave comments on the article and ask the right questions.

Types of questions in psychology

Questions, their types and meaning

Definition 1

Questions are a special kind of logical concepts that are veiled requirements used to clarify circumstances, clarify information, and resolve a problem situation.

Questions play a very important role in business communication, dispute or controversy, they can help to clarify a lot, and can be very confusing. A question asked appropriately highlights the weaknesses of the opponent, and the ability to ask it correctly is an art. Everyone knows that half the answer is the right question.

The questions asked in different areas of activity are different, for example, the questions of a psychologist to a client will differ from the questions asked to close people.

Naturally, the psychologist's questions will be aimed at solving certain problems:

  • to maintain contact with the client;
  • to obtain the necessary information;
  • to clarify or test the hypotheses put forward;
  • for the transmission of information.

The ability to ask questions is an important professional skill of a psychologist and a condition for effective counseling.

The types of questions are different and their simple classification distinguishes clarifying and supplementing questions, complex and simple questions, correct and incorrect, neutral, benevolent, provocative.

Figure 1. Types of questions. Author24 - Internet exchange of student papers

Clarifying questions require a simple answer "yes" and "no" and are aimed at finding out the truth or falsity of information. This type of question is often referred to as closed questions.

Open-ended questions begin with interrogative words "what", "who", "where", "when", "how", "why". Interrogative statement helps to get a detailed answer and new information about any event or phenomenon.

Correct questions are based on true judgments, while incorrect questions are based on false judgments.

Neutral questions do not affect the interlocutor and do not contain emotional overtones.

It is clear that benevolent questions indicate a disposition towards the interlocutor, while provocative ones contain incitement to wrong actions and have a negative connotation.

Multidirectional questions support communicative interaction better, and if they are also correctly posed, they make it possible to obtain more information about the interlocutor and manage the course of business communication.

Questions activate the interlocutor and provide an opportunity to assert themselves.

Asking questions help:

  • significantly clarify the interests of the interlocutor;
  • focus on the necessary details of the conversation;
  • find out partner's objections;
  • keep the initiative in conversation;
  • communicate your point of view;
  • destroy confidence in something;
  • build partnerships;
  • take a leadership position during the conversation.

Thus, questions are a way to make a person think, and if they are skillfully used, known and distinguished, then much can be done.

Open-ended questions in psychology

For a psychologist, open-ended questions provide information about the essence of the client's difficulties and, as a rule, begin with the words “what”, “who”, “how”, “why”, “could”, “and if No". It is difficult to answer them in monosyllables - “yes”, “no”, so the client needs to give them a complete and detailed answer. For example, the client has the opportunity to formulate his answer without restrictions to the question - "Will you tell me what we can talk about?"

The psychologist, by asking open-ended questions, finds out the general picture of the current situation and the main facts of the situation, as well as the client's attitude to these facts and his judgment. During the collection of information, the psychologist finds out how much the client understands his problem, what feelings he experiences and the peculiarities of his thinking. These same questions can be used in the third stage to find out the client's goals and what he thinks about these goals.

Note 1

During such a conversation, it is important for the psychologist to show a sense of proportion, especially when it comes to the question "why" - this question is very disturbing and the client may want to defend himself.

Open-ended questions activate the rationalization defense mechanism and, above all, because the client must have thought about this problem and prepared a system of explanations for himself.

Active and long-term questioning of the client can be perceived by him as aggression on the part of the psychologist, Gestalt therapists interpret asking questions in the same way.

When asking open-ended questions to a client, it is important to remember some rules, for example:

  • questions “who?” are guided only by facts, not by feelings. and what?";
  • the question “how?” is focused on the inner world of a person, his behavior;
  • should be avoided in counseling the question "why?", as it provokes defensive reactions of the client;
  • you can not ask several questions at the same time, because the answers to them can be completely different and unrelated;
  • questions should not precede the client's answers.

If the answer to a question is vague, it is worth clarifying, for example, how are you doing at work? When answering “not bad”, it is clarified – “what does good mean to you?” An important detail in the clarifying question is that a person puts absolutely different content into the same concepts.

Open-ended questions have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is the ability to voluntarily transfer information to the interlocutor and the ability to freely talk about their feelings, freely comment on an event.

They focus on reflection, on the analysis of their actions, give the opportunity to speak without restrictions and make the interlocutor listen carefully to the speaker.

The disadvantage is the possibility of embarrassing a client who does not have experience in answering open-ended questions, the possibility of provoking a very long answer, a confused and chaotic answer that is difficult to understand, the need to ask leading questions, which can offend the client and make the conversation difficult.

Closed questions

As for closed questions, they require an affirmative or negative answer and are used in such cases when it is necessary to get a direct and tough reaction from the interlocutor in order to either confirm or refute a fact.

Note 2

Closed-ended questions include the particle "li" and contain the wording of the answer. They can be answered unambiguously “yes” or “no” or answered in one phrase.

Closed questions force the client to make a choice from the options offered to him. Closed questions, on the one hand, facilitate the process of communication, and on the other hand, they can lead to the completion of the dialogue. This situation may arise because a person perceives closed questions as straightforward and feel like they are being interrogated.

When choosing the wording of a question, it is important to take into account the existing limitations, especially when working with suggestible clients and children.

Information about the client can be obtained with the help of microtechniques - this is the minimum reinforcement, support, retelling, reflection of feelings, etc.

Specialists most often use closed questions in those cases when the client is not talkative and reserved, distrustful and consciously does not want to give this or that information about himself. The reason may also be the lack of time for the client or the lack of a mood for a long conversation.

There are certain principles for setting closed questions - this is the creation of a favorable climate for the client and the obligatory preliminary preparation of all possible questions and answers. It is not recommended to bring the client to a decision earlier than the specialist does.

Learn more