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First Sessions and Asking Questions

My wife and I had been married for about a year when she became mildly concerned about a habit of mine. Our neighborhood had been out of power from a massive storm for several days when the power company showed up to remedy the problem. I disappeared from the house for about fifteen minutes and when I came back inside, she asked, “Where were you?” “I went to talk to the power company guy—I wanted to know what he was doing so I (interrogated him) asked him some questions.”

Her immediate response was, “Your curiosity is going to get you in trouble someday.”

I don’t know that I have suffered harsh consequences for my curiosity, but it is true that I am curious about virtually everything—“How does that work?” “Why/how did you do that?” “What is next?” are common kinds of questions in my conversations.

That natural curiosity is a blessing as a biblical counselor—it leads to asking many questions and always being inquisitive. 

Cultivate a Questioning Spirit

The biblical counselor doesn’t want to cultivate a condescending or skeptical spirit with his counselees—such an attitude would certainly violate many aspects of biblical love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). But he does want to ask many questions of the counselee for at least two reasons. First, he wants to demonstrate that he is listening to the needs, concerns, and circumstances of the counselee (Proverbs 18:13). He is seeking knowledge of the counselee’s situation that will equip him to care for him (Proverbs 18:15). He is gathering as much information as he can so that he is not surprised when he hears the “other side of the story” (Proverbs 18:17). Second, he asks questions so that he can draw out the heart of the counselee (Proverbs 20:5). He is aware that in probing and asking questions, the heart of the counselee will be exposed—and then the counselor will be better equipped to assist the struggler.

Counselors are often tempted to assume we have all the data we need without asking more probing questions. A counselee might say, “I used to struggle with lust, but now I’m doing okay.” We might assume he is talking about pornography and nod our heads and say, “Yes, many do, but I’m glad the Lord has given you victory” and then not pursue it further (because it feels awkward and intrusive). But we want to understand the circumstance and we want to draw out his motives. So here are some questions that might be helpful to ask to the statement, “I used to struggle with lust, but now I’m doing okay”:

A principle I learned from one of my mentors many years ago was, “Always ask the next natural question.” With the information I have received from the counselee, I want to think about appropriate follow-up questions that will give me a more complete understanding of the counselee’s situation, and also begin exposing his heart and motives.

Some Questions for the First Session

One of the goals for the first session is to gain involvement with the counselee; I want them to know that I am interested in them and care about them. So I write a list of questions (generally at least twenty-plus questions) to indicate that I have prepared specifically for them and have already been thinking and praying about their situation.

Some of those questions are general for most counselees:

Other questions will be gleaned from the Personal Data Inventory they have submitted (and our counseling ministry will not even schedule an appointment until we have a PDI). Here are some sample questions that I have asked because of what I have read on a PDI:

When I am sensing that there may be more data that I don’t have, but I am struggling to find a pathway to lead me to the information I need, I will often ask, “What is the one thing I don’t know about you that I need to know?”  

Some Spiritual Questions for the First Session

Some people will be willing to tell you their spiritual story, while others need to be prodded. Here are some questions I like to ask:

Two Resources for Learning to Ask Questions

For some of us, asking questions is something that comes naturally. For others of us, asking questions seems intrusive and confrontational. But if we will care well for our counselees, we will ask them questions.

Two resources I have found helpful for cultivating a “questioning spirit” are:

On the third or fourth counseling session with a couple, I was listing on a white board all the circumstances that they told me were putting pressure on their marriage. We had listed six to eight items, and I was about to put down my marker when the husband said, “Oh—well, Sonny.”

“Sonny?” I responded.

“Yes—our child who is paralyzed.”

“Have you told us about him previously and I’ve forgotten?” I asked (almost panicked in my mind).

“No. We just didn’t think about it.”

Obviously, their disabled child (not the real name or condition) was a significant pressure on their relationship. I hadn’t thought to ask, and they hadn’t thought to tell. That demonstrates the need to keep asking and keep probing with questions—always being curious for the purpose of caring well for our counselees. Only when we know them well will we be able to guide them well from the Scriptures.

This blog was originally posted at CBCD. View the original post here. [3]