Recursive Questioning

One of the most simple processing techniques is recursive questioning. That means, asking the same question, or giving the same direction repeatedly, even though it has already been answered.

This is based on the following ideas:

- Reactions will tend to be exhausted, to be worn down so to say, if they are repeatedly activated. If the client gets an unpleasant emotional reaction when a certain question is asked, and it is repeatedly asked, then the intensity of the reaction will gradually fade away. She will become tired of reacting that way. If she stays still during the duration of the ordeal, that is.

- A person will often give social answers when first a question is asked. She will give a superficial answer that is socially accepted. If you keep demanding more answers to the question then she will gradually be forced to dig deeper. And that is when we get hold of the material that is much more valuable for processing purposes, the answers below the surface.

- Repeated activation of the same subject will tend to build towards a threshold. If there is something you find unpleasant and it is repeatedly presented to you, then you'll probably feel worse and worse. Until a certain point, when the reaction snaps and you break through to a different state. In a social situation it might well be that you would shut up the source of the unpleasantness, but in a session one might well sit through it and the reaction transforms into something else that is more preferable.

- If a subject is covered thoroughly by getting everything that is available to say about it or perceive about it, then one is eventually left with a more simple truth about what is there. Which might be nothing, the subject might just evaporate. Or one might arrive at a good realization about what is really going on with the subject. Or one might simply be able to see more clearly after shoveling away some garbage.

Recursive questioning is a rather crude technique. If pursued vigorously it can get quite unpleasant before things clear up. It requires some kind of agreement to start with that the client is going to go through with it. It is not the kind of thing that just anybody off of the street will intuitively go along with. It would need to be explained and the client would need to be willing to stay with it till we get a result.

The advantage of recursive questioning is that it is easy to administer. There will just be one question, or just a few sequential questions, and they will usually be prepared in advance. The facilitator just asks the question, gets the answer, acknowledges that she got an answer, and then asks the same question again, but like it is a totally new and fresh question. The facilitator just needs to notice when we have gotten as much mileage out of the question as seems possible.

With relatively simple instruction people could do recursive techniques on themselves. They could be supplied with a list of questions that are likely to activate some worthwhile stuff, and they can be instructed to repeatedly answer each one while there is still something happening.

You can use recursive questioning in various ways and in varying degrees of depth.

Personally I avoid using recursive questioning to power through reactions that come up. It is unpleasant and gives unpredictable results taking an unpredictable amount of time. When something more heavy surfaces I'd much rather change to the most appropriate technique for handling that type of material.

Only in the case of particularly long-lived and unwanted emotional responses would I think of using a brute force recursive technique to break through a threshold.

For example, if somebody has an obsessive need for eating certain kinds of food, and the obsession has resisted processing so far. We could then repeatedly provide her with the trigger that starts her obsessive behavior. Like, if we find that it is a nice color picture of chocolate that does it, then we can have her repeatedly bring up such a picture, building up the intensity to more and more and more. If done precisely, the response will get stronger and stronger and then eventually it will snap. And then she will be unable to get it back again. The chocolate picture will no longer produce an automatic response.

The way I typically will use recursive questions is in a general module, to bring up material. I don't do it rotely and I most likely will vary the question along the way. But I bring up a certain subject, like the person's willingness to be or not be present in certain places or situations. We could construct two questions out of that:

"Where would you be willing to be?"
"Where would you not be willing to be?"

You don't really have to construct any exact questions to address the subject. But doing so might make it more simple for the facilitator, and the technique could be used with some benefit even by a facilitator who has no clue why we would ask the questions and who just uses it rotely.

I would use questions like that to encourage the client to explore the subject fully. I use them to get new different answers out of her. I want her to go over the subject from many different angles, perceiving it in new and different ways.

If she stops looking and starts giving monotonous answers I will vary the question or change into another approach. I only continue a recursive question as long as it is interesting for the client. If it is no longer interesting I change into something else. If the subject is not covered well enough I will change into a variant of the same thing, just providing a different angle to keep the client engaged. If the subject has been covered well and the client has gotten something new out of it, then I would go on with another subject.

If the client brings up a more specific phenomenon that matches a technique I know, I will usually switch to that. Like, if she brings up that she gets a stomach ache whenever she sees her boss, well, then I would probably find some incidents she can re-experience.

Recursive questioning is like peeling off layers of an onion. You ask a question and you get the outermost layer. Instead of just being satisfied with that, you ask it again and you get the next layer. You keep doing that until there is no more onion or it becomes clear what is inside.

The questions you ask are not asked to get the correct answer. They are asked to make something happen, particularly to make the client look more and more and discover stuff she had forgotten.

If the client is giving the same answer every time "because it is the correct answer" then you need to have a little discussion about what processing is about. You are only wasting your time if the client is trying to answer your questions "correctly". For that matter, answering the questions incorrectly would have much more value. However, we really want neither. We simply ask questions to make something happen. We would like to get as much mileage out of each question that we can.

Simply put, any question we ask is another way of saying:

"Perceive what is there, and tell me about it!"

It would be boring if that was what we said all the time. Humans like variation, they like to be entertained, and they like to be tricked into realizing what they already know.

The advantage of using many different questions is that each one is likely to strike a chord in its own unique way. The question approximates something in the client's mind and it gets her to look at it in a way she wouldn't otherwise look at it.

So, one of the facilitator's trusted resources is the ability to come up with a great many varied and unexpected questions. The facilitator might make them up or she might have lists of good questions to ask. That is what our general modules mostly consist of. Generalized lists of what one could ask a person about.

The second resource as regards to questions is the ability to get the most out of each question. You want to milk each one for as much change as we can get out of it. And the most simple way of doing that is by asking the question again and getting different answers.


- Asking recursive questions, simulating different scenarios of how the client might respond.

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