The Art and Science of Therapy, Part 2: Crafting Questions

Topics Covered: Crafting questions, five types of questions, how to practice question crafting, sample questions. Length: 1 hour, 1 minute.

Class Notes

Part 1 Review:  Joining in order to enter the family’s world through the basic microskills:  back channeling, summarizing, empathizing, summarizing, and using client language. This will allow you to move into the stage of asking questions.


5 types of questions:

  • Yes/No
  • Direct Simple Answer
  • Relational
  • Circular
  • Direct Open Question

Yes/No Questions

  • Fork in the road questions that help you determine where you are going.
  • Questions for providing clarity.
  • People tend to ask yes/no questions unintentionally.
    • If you’re looking for a story, don’t ask a yes/no question.

Direct Simple Answer

  • Short answer
  • Helps build the data you need to begin asking “fancier” questions.

Example:  How many sisters do you have?

Direct Open Questions

  • Start with Who, What, Where, When, and How. All open questions start with these words, but not all questions that start with these words are open questions.
  • “Give me a story” type of questions

Example:  How did you decide to sneak out of the house?

Relational Questions

  • Require the client to put themselves into someone else’s shoes and look at the situation through that person’s eyes in order to answer the question.  
  • Putting them into that context, so they can answer from that place.
  • It invites people to imagine other perspectives.

Example:  To daughter:  “When I ask mom what was going on when you snuck out of the house, what is she going to tell me?”

Circular Questions

  • Ask one person to comment on the relationship of two others.  Those two others do not have to be people. (e.g., asking about mom’s relationship with church.)
  • These are asked to get a sense of the dynamics between people, in order to learn about the relationship.

Example:  So, if your sister were here, how would she describe the relationship between you and your Mom?

Narrative externalization:  So, tell me how Mom first met anger?


  • You get different data when you ask different kinds of questions.

  • The goal is to make this a process that is done with “muscle memory” instead of continually thinking about crafting your questions properly (a result of continued purposeful practice).

  • Every question you ask has the potential for opening up whole new worlds for the family to experience.

  • Record your sessions, write down every questions you asked, determine if it was intentional, as well as if it got the result (information) you wanted.

  • Empathy vs. curiosity as an orientation for the therapist (around 13:30)

  • Question is intervention.

Packaging:  The putting together of the basic microskills out of which comes your question.

“I don’t know what the family’s going to bring, but I know what I bring.”


  • Use client language. They give me the words, and then I use them to craft a question. (The exception is the reframe.)

  • “Why” can be replaced with “How did you decide to”

  • Practice questions by writing them down.

  • Some people do not think that carefully about what they say, or what they hear.

  • Sometimes we have to deliver more complex questions in smaller pieces, so that people can understand and “hear” the question.  The question and its style may be outside their experience.

  • When crafting questions, the actual words are very important.

  • Visualizing the situation can help you craft questions, so you don’t feel as if you are “spinning the dial” (being analytical).

  • Giving the client a heads-up that a question may anger them can be beneficial in getting an answer. It’s okay for the client to be annoyed with you.

  • Sometimes our questions have sharp edges, so I want to package it with a lot of “bubble wrap,” so it doesn’t bite. The purpose is to maintain the therapeutic relationship while still being a therapist and keeping ethical boundaries.

  • It’s okay to take time to think during therapy, and sometimes silence can be an indicator of a good question.

  • A question can be so outside a person’s experience so you may have to rephrase or repeat the question.

  • Clients may answer a different question than the one you’ve asked, because they are answering the question they heard. You may have to ask, “So what did you hear me say just now?”

  • I don’t want to disconnect from the client

  • I want questions that engage, get them curious about what is going on, tells me a story, metaphors. That’s what you get back, when you craft questions well.

  • There are no right or wrong questions, just more or less useful questions.

  • Only through experimentation will you recognize what are the most useful questions in this situation, or with this particular model, or with this particular client.

  • Asking why can imply that someone was wrong. Not using the word why can help you become more purposeful in the way that you ask a question. You have to know what it is you’re looking for before you ask a question.

  • "Why?" can imply “wrong.”  I am not an investigator.

    If I stay in curiosity, I’m much less likely to be biased, judgmental, teacher, advisor, and other roles that are antithetical to good therapy.

What do you do when you get an answer you didn’t intend?

  • Validate the answer.

  • You may use the information, or you may not, but no information is wasted. You never know when you may go back and weave it in.


Murray Bowen, what may have not be said

Michael White, the implicit but unsaid

Douglas Flemons, author, professor of family therapy

Ron Chenail, qualitative researcher, professor family therapy

AnnaLynn Schooley is a full-time professor for Capella University.  She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed mental health counselor, as well as an AAMFT Supervisor.  Dr. Schooley is writing a book with Jim Hibel on systemic nano skills, titled Microskills for Effective Therapy and Counseling:  A Systemic Perspective.  Stay tuned for more information.