1. What would need to be true for you to consider our work a success?
This disarming question comes from a Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) approach.
By the time clients show up to therapy, they may have a lot different issues on their plate, they may hop from one issue to another, not knowing where to begin. This question helps cut through the noise and get clients in touch with what truly matters to them. Many clients don’t want to be in therapy forever, so getting clear on a tangible goal you're working towards can energize clients and help them buy-in to working together.
For example, a client might respond:
- "I would consider therapy a success if I can manage my anxiety and panic attacks more effectively, so they don't interfere with my daily life."
- "If I can improve my communication with my spouse and have more meaningful conversations."
- "For me, therapy would be successful if I feel more confident and able to assert myself in social situations."
Understanding your client's vision for success allows you to tailor your work together to that ends. This is especially helpful for people who are dragged into therapy (e.g. a teenager or spouse). It’s a great way to get them on board, and sets a tone of hope and motivation.
The question forces clients to get crisp on what specific changes they want to see in their lives – and, in the process, empowers them by acknowledging their autonomy in defining what success means to them.
2. Why therapy NOW?
This simple question can be surprisingly revealing – it sheds light on the critical elements that led your client to try something different and reach out for help. This question helps you up to hone in on the client's immediate needs and priorities.
Often times the issues clients come to therapy to address have been longstanding, but something about their lives has recently changed to catalyze treatment. By exploring the question of “why now”, you may reveal significant life transitions (such as a job change, or loss of a loved one) or identify areas of outsized importance for clients (such as particular relationship, or past trauma that has resurfaced).
This question can guide you in developing a personalized treatment plan that addresses the client's unique needs and therapeutic goals.
3. How was this for you?
Asking for feedback at the end of a therapy session is arguably the most impactful thing you can do to increase outcomes. Research shows that seeking feedback from clients improves therapeutic outcomes, strengthens the therapeutic alliance, and helps therapists provide more individualized and effective treatment.
Seeking feedback from clients is a powerful way to show that you care about their experience, and value their perspective. It also signals that you believe the client knows best about how the therapy is going and want to work collaboratively so the client can get the most out of treatment.
Research has shown that using formal feedback measures, such as the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and the Session Rating Scale (SRS), can enhance the benefits of feedback-informed therapy. These scales provide structured ways for clients to rate their progress and experience in therapy, offering valuable data to inform treatment decisions.
These 3 questions are just a starting point!
I encourage you to put these three in your back pocket and try them out with clients. They have been powerful conversation openers for me! We'd also love to hear about your go-to questions.