How effective was the counselor’s use of open and closed questions?

Effective Use of Open and Closed Questions during an Interview

The following dialogue provides a brief example of how the crisis counselor uses a blend of open and closed questions to obtain important information about Susan, who just discovered her husband is having an affair and is planning on leaving her. Susan presented with substantial suicidal ideation.

Susan: I’ve gotten to where I can’t even sleep at night. My mind just races, and I can’t stop thinking about everything.

Counselor: Tell me more about some of the thoughts you have been having as you lay in bed unable to sleep. (Open question to facilitate exploration and information gathering)

Susan: That I will never be in a happy relationship again. That my husband never really cared about me and just used me. That this pain will never stop. I wonder how I can get my life back together without him.

Counselor: You wonder if you will find peace again without him and want so much for this pain to go away. (Empathic paraphrase) What are some of the feelings you have been experiencing? (Open question)

Susan: Mainly down—angry and depressed. Like I said, I’ve been thinking of checking out—ending it all. I feel this tremendous pain inside my chest, very hurt and sad I guess. I feel like he never really cared about me. He is so selfish.

Counselor: You’re feeling very hurt and betrayed. Susan, tell me when you began experiencing these symptoms? (Closed question to identify timeline of symptoms)

Susan: I would say about three months ago, when I found out about his affair, but they have gotten much worse over the last month.

Counselor: You say they have gotten worse over the last month. What do you make of that? (Open question to identify client’s understanding of her progressing symptoms)

Susan: Well, when I first found out about the affair, I would talk a lot with my friends and family, but I felt like they were getting sick of hearing me complain all the time. So lately I have just been trying to tough it out and deal with it on my own.

Counselor: And is this the first time you’ve sought counseling for this?

Susan: Yes.

Discussion Questions

1. How effective was the counselor’s use of open and closed questions?

2. What alternative responses by the counselor might also have been helpful?

3. Put yourself in the position of the client. What counselor responses would have elicited even better or more informative responses by the client?

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