Therapeutic questions for clients

Therapy questions, therapeutic questions

Therapy questions are the lifeblood of psychotherapy. In the hands of a skilled therapist, they can help move a client toward self-discovery and change. But how do therapists know what questions to ask and when to ask them? Here are some things to know about asking questions in psychotherapy. 

Suggestions for successful therapeutic questioning

The following tips are beneficial for all types of therapy:

Use open-ended therapy questions

Open-ended questioning is almost always recommended for therapeutic situations. Open-ended therapy questions are designed to facilitate thought and increase the expression of feelings. They are also seen as less confrontational and judgmental. Closed questions, in contrast, pull for short specific answers. For example, “How did that make you feel?” is an open question that allows the client to elaborate as they wish. If the therapist instead asked, “Did you feel sad?”, the client might only provide a one-word answer to that leading question. The more information the therapist has to work with the better. Open-ended therapy questions are a means to that end. 

Quick Tip: If you don’t know exactly what to say, you can always use one of the best open-ended questions of all time: “Can you tell me more about that?”

Employ active listening 

The process of active listening is an integral part of therapeutic questioning. Although it does involve listening, it is so much more. Active listening is meant to show the client that you understand what they are saying. Not only does it increase comprehension, but it also improves therapist-client rapport. A therapist can display active listening by maintaining good eye contact, eliminating possible distractions, and asking related therapy questions. It is also beneficial for the therapist to reflect back to the client what they hear to show they are fully grasping what was said. For example, a therapist might remark, “You said you are worried about your mother’s reaction to your new girlfriend?”

Warm up your clients

When discussing sensitive topics, it is best to avoid jumping into the deep end too soon. You don’t want the first therapy question you ask in a session to be about a dangerous or traumatic situation unless it is imperative to do so. Take a few minutes to ask some less threatening questions until the client feels more comfortable. Just make sure that you do eventually broach important topics, no matter how unpleasant they may be. Clients don’t appreciate sessions filled with unproductive small talk. 

Utilize clarification

Clarifying questions are one of the most-used skills in the therapist toolbox. Like reflective listening, they are used to make sure you understand what you are being told. No therapist is going to comprehend everything they hear. Don’t be afraid to clarify what is being said. You can’t do your job if you don’t grasp the client’s meaning. For instance, you might say, “Did I understand you correctly when you said that you hated your boss?”

Here is a list of common therapy questions

No matter what modality or orientation of therapy you practice, the following questions are almost always appropriate and important, especially during an intake session.  

1) What brings you to therapy? 

This question tells you why a client is here. It is the starting point for the whole therapeutic process. You will notice it is open-ended and non-judgmental. It allows the client to state their problem from their point of view. 

2) What have you tried so far to deal with the problem? 

The answer to this therapy question gives you an indication of the coping abilities of your client. It will inform their treatment goals and how you need to approach their problems.

3) Have you been to therapy before? If yes, how did it go?

This question will help you to see how the client views therapy. Are they hopeful? Are they compliant? Have they been dragged to therapy against their will? Measuring a client’s resistance will help you find out what walls you may need to knock down to ensure success. 

4) How do you feel about your current situation?

The answer to this question will tell you how distressing the client finds their problem. Remember, all troubles are relative. You need to know whether you have to extinguish a small flame or a five-alarm fire. 

5) Tell me about the important relationships in your life.

Humans are social beings. And relationships are one of the most meaningful parts of our lives. This question will give you an idea about how your client gets along with other people. It will also let you know if your client has a viable support system. 

6) How would you describe your mood?

Mood issues are among the most common reasons people seek therapy. Mood affects every aspect of life and it will affect therapy as well. It is especially important to see if your client is  feeling out-of-control or suicidal so you can address it immediately.  

7) What are your goals for therapy? 

A client’s goals are the engine that powers the therapy train. This question provides the opportunity to initiate the collaborative process and fine-tune what they will be working on. It also allows the therapist to manage client expectations. Goals provide hope, direction, and motivation for the client and therapist alike. 

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Therapy questions according to theoretical orientation

While some therapy questions apply to all kinds of therapy, others are more typical of certain theoretical orientations.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) questions 

CBT usually uses Socratic questions that are meant to challenge maladaptive thoughts.

For example:
  • What is the evidence that supports this thought? 

  • How would you feel if this alternate thought were true? 

  • How might your best friend see this situation? 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) questions

DBT is an offshoot of CBT with more of a focus on emotional regulation, impulse control, and relationships.

Some questions a DBT therapist may ask include:
  • What is the worst thing that could happen? 

  • If you had radically accepted this situation instead of reacting, how would the outcome be different?

  • Can you label this feeling?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) questions 

Motivational Interviewing is a type of therapy that aims to reduce ambivalent feelings that prevent people from changing and moving toward the completion of their goals.

Therapy questions a MI therapist may ask include:
  • If you were to be successful in therapy, what would your life look like?

  • What are some potential barriers to change? 

  • What personal strengths do you have that would help you successfully change?

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy questions 

Solution-focused therapy focuses on finding solutions to specific issues. It concentrates on present actions rather than attempting to find the root cause of problems.

A therapist might ask:
  • What would be different in your life if your problem was solved?  

  • What is one thing you have done in the past that will help make your problem better?

  • What helpful behaviors were you performing before you started having your problem?

Therapy questions are one of the most important aspects of therapy. Knowing what therapy questions to ask in particular situations can make all the difference in achieving treatment success.


TheraPlatform is an all-in-one EHR, practice management and teletherapy software for clinicians. It has considerable information about different therapeutic approaches and their associated therapy questions. It also contains numerous resources - including worksheets and articles–to help therapists educate and grow their practices. Try a 30-day free trial of TheraPlatform today.

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