DSC8883 - SECTION 7: PERSONAL QUESTIONS DIRECTED TO THE CLINICIAN
So far, the discussion has been about disclosures that the clinician chooses to make for various reasons that enhance the therapy. Clients also may ask personal questions for a variety of reasons. Assessing the client’s specific reason for asking is important in order to respond appropriately and therapeutically.
Some of the reasons clients ask personal questions are very positive. The client may feel a growing sense of relationship with the clinician and therefore interested in the clinician as a person. This usually occurs after rapport and trust have been firmly established. These questions should be answered briefly and quietly before moving back to the client’s issues.
Early in the relationship, clients may ask personal questions to assess the ability of the clinician to help them. It is most important not to be defensive of these questions. They are not only legitimate, but as a consumer the client has the right to know about your professional experience.
These types of questions should be answered directly followed by inquiry of the client regarding doubts they may have about your expertise. If you or the client believes these doubts cannot be overcome, referral to another clinician is appropriate.
Similarly the client may have trust or abandonment issues that underlie their requests for you to disclose. While these questions may be answered briefly and calmly, the clinician may want to ask the client if they are concerned about confidentiality or the clinician terminating before the client is ready.
It is important to allow the client to share these concerns and deal with them in a straightforward manner.
Some of the more complex reasons for client’s personal questions may be to assume power in the relationship or to violate normal boundaries. It is not wise to directly answer questions asked for these reasons.
Instead return the focus to the client by saying, “What is your interest in the answers to these questions?…I am wondering why you ask?...At this point I think it is best to concentrate on your issues. Let’s get back to what we were discussing."
Client anxiety - or seeking to avoid a topic - can also be at the core of client’s personal questions. Rather than dwelling on the answer to the question, the clinician may suggest that the client seems anxious or ask if the client is uncomfortable talking about a particular issue. This will deflect from the client’s question and encourage the client to confront their anxieties.
One of the most common reasons for a client’s personal question is as a projection of their own concerns. In these cases, the client is not really looking for an answer but giving the clinician an opening to ask if the client is concerned.
One might say that client questions for this reason are rhetorical. For example, the client may say, “Have you ever lost someone close to you?” This is the time for a therapist to look beyond the question and ask, “Are you asking this because you have had this experience?"
In another example the client may ask, “Did you ever feel so nervous you thought you would jump out of your skin?” The clinician might respond, “Is that how you’ve been feeling lately?"
In general then, there are several options in response to client’s questions - based on your assessment of why the question is being asked:
Turn the question around to the client;
Answer the question briefly and directly.
Ignore the question and move on.
Occasionally you may encounter a particularly persistent client. Despite your best effort to assess the reason for the questions and use appropriate responses, the client continues to query.
In those cases it may be necessary to tell the client in a firm manner that the therapy is for them and about them, and you expect to spend this time on their issues. Then return to discussion of the client’s concerns.