Individual Counseling

Conditional Questioning

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We talked about resistances in the last article. Now we will talk about a really good strategy, called conditional questioning, to help a client free himself up a little bit to be able to move through his resistances.

Refusal to talk about a subject can be really difficult to deal with for a therapist. You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. One of the really successful unconscious strategies that a client uses is to say and to believe that he really has no connection to the subject and has nothing of relevance to offer about it.

This is where the conditional question comes in. “If you were the type of person who had something to say about this, what would it be?” The conditional aspect allows for some distance from dangerous thoughts and emotions, helping a client feel safe and often giving him the courage to proceed.

Projection, where we put our thoughts and emotions onto something or someone else, is a common psychological phenomenon that all of us do all the time anyway, so the conditional question sort of allows for projection to occur but with the full awareness of it happening and the plan to center what is said back upon the client to explore it further.

If we are asked to imagine what someone else would think or feel in a similar situation, we have to filter these ideas through our own subjective experiences and worldviews, and to someone who is trained in what to look for a client will be offering a great deal of invaluable information.

But actually you don’t need to be all that smart or clever to aid in raising awareness, you just need to mirror back what is said in order to let a client explore the idea further. For example, let’s say a client states, “Well, I suppose if I was the kind of person who got all emotional over little things, I’d feel sad.” You can just respond “Tell me about sad” and you’re off to the races.

The ultimate goal of conditional questioning is to help a client take ownership over his resistances and raise his conscious awareness about what is lying underneath them, and this is achieved by first creating a safe distance so that he feels like he can proceed without danger.