When someone asks me what it’s like to be a therapist, I often reply that it’s never the same hour twice. Of course, each counseling client is different, but so is every session, whether it’s the variety of issues that clients present with to the different life experiences, every hour is different.
Even though there are infinite possibilities of presenting problems that clients have, there is one question that you should be asking every counseling client. Regardless of your theoretical approach or counseling style, you should ask the question, “What do you want to work on today?”
The power of this question
Asking this question is compelling for many reasons. One of the most important reasons for this question is that it puts the client in charge of their session. Asking them what they want to work on today in session allows them to assert themselves in their course of change.
The perspective that matters
You already know that your client in counseling is the focus, but it can be easy to lose sight of why they started therapy in the first place, especially if there are many presenting issues. The client’s perspective of their counseling goals is what matters the most. The question of what they want to work on today helps keep them focused on why they wanted to attend counseling.
The infinite possibilities
Open-ended questions in counseling is a must. Avoid yes-no questions at all cost because they don’t allow for a full discussion. Sure, when the session begins, there may be a few minutes of small talk questions, but don’t waste time asking what they want to work on today. Asking this question, you will see there are infinite possibilities of answers your client will provide.
The answer may surprise you
Even if you have many years of experience, you may be surprised at your client’s response when you ask them what they want to work on today. You think that they want to discuss their relationship, stress from work, or parenting, but when you ask this question, they may share something they never stated before. Their answer may be something they have never mentioned in a previous session.
Regardless if you are working with an individual or a couple, the one question of what do you want to work on today is a mandatory. Couples counseling questions will not be that different than the ones when you work with an individual. Focusing on the number one question at the beginning of the session shows the client that you are present, open, and ready to help them navigate whatever life is throwing their way. Your client will appreciate you putting them in the driver’s seat of their counseling experience.
Dr. Kristie Overstreet is a clinical sexologist, certified sex therapist, licensed professional clinical counselor, author, speaker, and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology, Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Addiction Professional. She has over 12 years of clinical experience specializing in sex therapy, transgender healthcare, relationships, and helping counselors build their private practice. She is president of Therapy Department, a private practice that provides counseling, training, speaking, and consulting services across the United States. For more information about Dr. Kristie’s work visit www.KristieOverstreet.com.