Molnos, A. (1998): A psychotherapist's harvest

FACTUAL QUESTIONS

With the exception of questions asked during the assessment interview dynamic psychotherapists and counsellors tend to refrain from asking patients too many questions. Therapists are afraid that patients might experience questions as intrusive or attacking. Also it is assumed that questions disrupt the patient's thoughts or flow of spontaneous associations.

On the other hand, factual questions might be asked with a purpose which is different from just obtaining information. For instance, questions about details surrounding a traumatic event might be asked in order to help to free the patient's frozen emotions: "What time of the day was it when you last saw her? (i.e. the mother who within half an hour suffered a fatal accident) Where were you both standing? Can you describe the place? (furniture, objects, if in the house, plants, trees, landscape, if outdoor, light, sounds coming from elsewhere, smells). How was she dressed? What was she wearing? (shapes, colours, textures, fragrance, smell) Do you remember the exact words she spoke? Was there anything in her words or the way she spoke that remained with you ever since?"

Sometimes the therapist might ask factual questions simply to give the patient support, make him feel that she remembers what he had said in earlier sessions, that she holds him and his problems and concerns in her head. For instance, the patient had been worried about his best friend's position at work and the therapist asks: "How is your friend?" Such a seemingly social or conversational question has a quite different weight and meaning if asked by the therapist at the right time, that is when the friend's problem is uppermost in the patient's mind.

Finally, it is reported that Bowlby used to suggest to his supervisees who were unsure about facts concerning their patients: "If you do not know, inquire!" The advice shows the importance Bowlby gave to exploring the reality with which patients have to contend. It also shows that he did not share many therapists' fear of asking factual questions.

See also index: ASSESSMENT, INTERPRETATION, QUESTIONS BY THE THERAPIST