Working a Question

A question or a subject has a somewhat different use when you are handling general areas than if you are handling a specific issue.

When we are handling a specific issue the use of questions and techniques is mostly convergent. We are working on getting a handle on the issue, find out what it is about, how it works, what structures it consists of, what it is good for, etc. Our objective is to change exactly that issue into a more optimum state. If unrelated issues come up we might just ignore them.

If we are working on general areas we don't have a particular issue in mind. Anything we get hold of can be fine. It is a divergent activity. We might just use the question of the overall subject as a lead-in to provoke the client to come up with something we can then actually work on. We then handle the issue that surfaces with whatever techniques are appropriate for it. And then we go back to the seed question and see if we can get any more issues out of it.

A seed question is any question, statement, or idea that is likely to provoke or invite the person to offer an issue for handling. It is usually a question that makes her think and see things in a new way she hadn't thought about before. That will get her to discover something about herself that she hadn't thought of mentioning before by herself.

A seed question could be for example "What don't you want to talk about?" I currently have a client I have been working with for more than 10 sessions based on just that one question. And that is not because she has a particularly hard time talking. The kind of issues I had in mind when I made the question at first was stuff people would be embarrassed about talking about. But for this client it leads to all kinds of other things. It has led to subjects she is depressed about, her relationship with her parents, subjects she is procrastinating about, subjects she doesn't know anything about, and more. We have then used incident re-experiencing, polarity integration, reframing, and other techniques to resolve those areas.

So, I would simply ask a version of the question at the beginning of a session after it is clear that the client doesn't have anything more pressing to work on. It might go like this:

F: "Is there anything you don't want to talk about?"
C: "Politics"
F: "Why is that?"
C: "Well, I don't know anything about it"
F: "Aha, so you don't talk about stuff you don't know about?"
C: (laughs) "Well, it is just that I don't know about the senate and elections and so forth. I think that is embarrassing"
F: "And you are not going to find out?"
C: "Well, I'm not interested enough in it to go to the library and find out."
F: "Oh, so you are just going to keep being embarrassed about it when people ask?"
C: (laugh) "Eh, I don't want to do that. But it is just that I don't know anything about it"
F: "And you can't ask?"
C: (thinking) "Hm, I didn't really think of that. I guess I could just be honest and say that I don't know anything."
F: "And then people could tell you"
C: "Right, right, I never saw it like that before. Yeah, that is not a problem then, I can just ask about it."

That was a simple reframing. But the client might very well generalize it to apply to any subject that she earlier didn't talk about because she didn't know about it. She can just honestly say that she doesn't know and she can ask questions.

When you then ask:

"Is there anything else you don't want to talk about?"

something else will probably come up. Maybe that requires a more extensive technique, maybe not.

The seed question is an opportunity to get material. There is no reason to waste it by only using it once. We might just as well use it up. Meaning, we get something, resolve it, and then we go back to the original question, get some more material, resolve that, and so forth.

You can vary the question a little bit to get all the nuances. Like the above question could also be worded as:

"What can't you talk about?"
"What aren't you talking to others about?"
"Is there anything you don't like saying to others?"
"Is there something you would be embarrassed to talk about?"
"Is there something you really shouldn't be talking about?"

You could also treat each variant as a separate process. However it is usually more satisfying to just get all the nuances of one main type of question and resolve them together. Anyway, it is not the exact words that are important, it is the subject and the types of stuff that gets activated.

Eventually the client will have an overall realization about the subject the question deals with. It is a nice feeling for her to notice that a complete subject is cleanly resolved. That in itself is a reinforcing and motivating factor.


- Practice working a general question with another student. You can use questions like "What would you like to look at?" or "What are questions for?"

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