Many people assume that psychologists spend all day telling people how to feel better and cope with life. In fact, junior psychologists themselves sometimes make this assumption. They think they are supposed to be spending most of the time in session talking, giving advice and providing information.
Which means they completely freak out when they can't think of what to say. I remember this feeling very well!
While giving good advice, helping with strategies and providing good psycho-education IS part of therapy, it's not the most important thing psychologists do.
The most important thing psychologists do is to ask good questions.
Not the cliche "what do YOU think about that?" question. (I never ask that, I know it makes clients want to kill you :))
But other questions. Really good, specific and smart questions. Lots and lots of them.
Asking the right questions in the right situation - and doing it session after session - helps people feel cared for, figure out what they need and what to do. It helps them learn to express themselves, seek out the right advice, get the exact reassurance they need to cope and how to plan out coping strategies. Asking the right questions is the secret sauce the best therapists have, whether they work with adults, kids or teens.
Unfortunately, outside of the therapy room - people don't ask each other good questions very often. In fact, people often don't ask any questions of each other at all. This is a huge shame, because asking the right questions can change lives.
1. When you ask questions of a sad/worried/upset/mad person (child, teen or adult) - it shows them you care about them.
Nothing shows interest, care and compassion better than asking questions. On the flip side - if you don't ask - people think you aren't interested or don't care. Sure, you often hear about teens who are annoyed at their parents "bugging them" with "too many questions". Let me tell you, I see plenty of teens in my room who are hurting far more because their parents never ask them anything except "how was school?"
2. When you ask questions of a sad/worried/upset/mad person (child, teen or adult) - it helps you know how you can help
When someone is hurting, we will often we jump in with advice, suggestions and reassurance before finding out what is really going on. We try to make things better before we really have the details. To help effectively, we need to ask way more questions than we think we need to. One of the traps for junior psychologists is to start providing intervention before really knowing exactly what is going on, when, how and why. Parents and adults working with young people have exactly the same problem. Asking lots of questions will help you help young people way more effectively.
3. When you ask questions of a sad/worried/upset/mad person (child, teen or adult) - it helps them talk, express themselves and figure stuff out.
People - old and young - who have an opportunity to talk about what their think, what has happened to them, how they feel and what they want - cope better than people who don't have that same opportunity. Asking kids and teens questions gives them mini expression practice oppportunities - this is absolutely invaluable for the development of their emotional well being.
Of course, asking good questions is easier said than done.
At my "Calm and Confident" seminars for parents of kids and teens, I have slides with lots of question ideas. When I first put these slides together, I was worried I was over-explaining things. The questions seemed pretty basic.
But my most frequent request after seminars in the past 12 months is - "can I have a copy of those question idea slides?".
So this blog post is for all those people. Thankyou for asking. Here are 55 question ideas for you. I hope they help you think about just one extra question you can ask that young person having a hard time. Don't under-estimate how valuable it might be to someone's life.
(Disclaimer - you will have to adjust these questions according to the age of the young person, the relationship you have with them and the situation you are in)