The Best One-Word Question in Psychotherapy

As an Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist part of my job is to help clients explore important life issues that can bring lasting positive change.  One advice I can give to my younger colleagues in the field is to not stop too soon when exploring a particular question.  Like excavating a treasure or drilling for oil, deeper explorations can yield valuable results.

I've found two simple questions help this process immensely: one is "what else?" and the other is simply "....and?"   Both are very useful for helping a client explore and achieve deeper levels of insight than first seemed evident.  

For instance, I may ask "what's been happening recently that's positive or healthy?" and my client and I can talk about the answer.  If I then follow up by asking "ok, what else?' we're likely to both be delighted by what continues to unfold. As I've previously written, we get more of what we notice, and focusing on all of the positive developments that are taking place in a client's life (especially the little ones) can be highly reinforcing and motivating .

"And?" is probably the most elegant question of all. When asked gently it is capable of softly probing further into the depths of a person's thoughts and feelings. It takes for granted that there is almost alwyas a richer experience to explore. This simple question conveys interest and encouragement. Some folks are surprised by how many times they can keep answering the simple one-word question "...and?..." when it is asked over and over. With some clients it's the first thing I say once we settle into our seats. We both smile and know that it's the potential start of a conversation unlike any other.

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Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is a counselor and psychotherapist in Atlanta.  He is well known as a skilled and respectful expert in helping people heal from the pain of compulsive sexual behavior, addiction to porn, chronic infidelity and other sexual difficulties.