Effective Question Asking

Every biblical counselor understands the beginning process of discipleship counseling. We begin by gathering data, and getting information from the counselee. We want to learn the problem. Before we can give any counsel, we have to know what we are counseling about!

Often our counselees bring the respectable problem out first. They want to know if we are trustworthy and knowledgeable before they bring the real problem to the table. Remember that the respectable problem and the “real” problem are not always one and the same!

Questions aimed straight for the heart of the matter are of the most effective and productive kind in biblical counseling.  They aid the counselee in the process of biblical change and will often decrease the time a counselee needs to spend in a formal counseling relationship.
Questions are a form of communication. Our goal is to be good communicators for the benefit of those we counsel and for the glory of God.

What makes good communication? While there are numerous techniques for communication, I think we would all agree that good communication is comprised of the giving and receiving of information. The usual method for getting information is the asking of questions.  I would say that asking questions is a foundation of good communication, and to go one step further, and say that asking good questions is the cornerstone of that foundation.

We ask questions because questions do 2 things: they give us information and they cause the counselee to think. Questions prick the conscience of the counselee, they cause him to have to engage his brain and come up with an answer.

It is much easier for him to be told what he thinks or believes or even feels. But the risk with telling versus asking is that we can alienate him by telling him. Telling can cause him to be defensive and put up barriers and obstacles between you. Asking him gives him the opportunity to admit and confess and agree with you and God. 
Asking the kind of questions that elicit heart level responses is hard work! This will cause you to think as well, and I strongly believe good question asking is at the center of good counseling. We have to expose a heart that is by nature secretive and deceptive. It takes work to come up with good questions that will cause the counselee to think. 

A good question causes the person being asked the question to think about how to answer.  A good question is less likely to garner a one word answer, and would probably give enough information to allow you to ask intensive questions and carry on a brief conversation with the person.  

A good question or series of questions will lead you to draw a conclusion about a topic. We see this repeatedly demonstrated in our counseling sessions. 

Through effective questioning we want to expose and discern the thoughts of the counselee. Thoughts are often misrouted and mislabeled as feelings. Ask questions such as, “What does that mean” to clarify data when a counselee says they feel like they deserved a job promotion that went to someone.  Effective questions will help the counselee to understand that their thoughts about the one who received the promotion (i.e. the values and judgments they have made about that person and their work performance) have created an emotional response in the body of sorrow, anger, or self-pity.

Effective questions will expose the belief system of the counselee- which is all-important because we act upon what we, believe to be true. 

We will continue this critical topic tomorrow to round out our week long blog series on why people struggle with change.