Wednesday, September 25, 2013

17 Game-Changing Questions for Any Counseling Situation

A few posts back, I ran a video blog that (among other things) shared how I think that questions are powerful tools in the counseling office. Since that seemed to strike a chord with many of you, I thought I'd share with you guys my favorite, top-secret, GAME-CHANGING questions that cut through the "story" and get at the heart of the matter. 

These questions will help you turn the session around when it stagnates and show clients that you really "get" them.  If you've ever worried that you might fumble or sound unsure of yourself, memorizing a few of these key questions will help you avoid that. And since questions should always be used with caution, I've also included at the end of this article today 3 Ethical Keys to make sure you're asking questions responsibly and judicially. 

17 Game-Changing Questions For Any Counseling Situation


1. When did this first start?
2. How do you see what happened/is happening?
3. How do you describe yourself? 

4. How would your family describe you?
5. What drives you?
6. What one thing makes you who you are?


7. What was it that made you call a counselor?
8. Why is now the right time for a change?
9. What are you doing this for?
10. What possibilities will there be in your life once you no longer are burdened by this issue?

Uncovering the Problem

11. When are you free of [the problem?]
12. What do you feel like when you do not have to deal with [the problem?]

Discovering Barriers to Change

13. What would your life be like if you woke up tomorrow and no longer had [the problem?] (Miracle question.)
14. Who in your life would benefit if you no longer had [the problem?]
15. Who in your life would struggle if you solved [the problem?]
16. What have you tried before to help with [the problem?]
17. What do you think has stopped you in the past from being free of this issue?

Ethical Keys

  1. Tone matters. You must never use an angry or judgmental tone when you ask questions, or it will blow up in your face.
  2. Spacing matters. Don't rattle off multiple questions at a time. These questions are designed to help you uncover gold. So ask them, and sit back, and let your client lead you straight to the motherlode.
  3. Follow-up matters. After you ask a difficult question, it is often helpful to come back to them and assess how it was for them. You might say something like: "Was that scary for you to answer?" "Did you feel concerned about how I would respond to your answer?" Follow-up questions allow you to assess your questions' suitability for a particular client, and to recover from any misunderstandings that might have happened. 
What's your favorite question to ask a client? Why? 

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Secret To Overcoming Counselor "Nerves"

The first time you stepped into a counseling office in the role of therapist, you probably felt nervous. Sick to your stomach, maybe. Worried.

Once you got a little time "in the saddle," so to speak, however, you probably felt more confident. You had some key phrases under your belt, had come through some rough circumstances a time or two, and thought to yourself, "Well, glad that's over with."

Except it wasn't.

Despite your experience, despite the time you've spent with clients, from time to time you still feel nervous before you meet with a client for the first time. You worry that you're going to be enough for them. You worry that you might say the wrong thing. The thing you thought you were past has come back again, and you don't know why.

You might wonder if you've lost your skills, regressed somehow, and that's why these nerves are coming back. But it's likely that the opposite occurrence has triggered a return to self-doubt. 

As we gain more skills in counseling, we also gain more awareness of the complexities of problems that are out there. When we are not focusing every ounce of our energy on not screwing up, we have mental space to consider more clearly the ramifications of our actions.

Further, we realize as we move into the next stage - collecting hours for licensure, booking new appointments at an agency, or moving into a fee-for-service model - that our very future as a counselor depends on our own ability to maintain these client relationships and produce "results." 

That's paralyzing, without a doubt.

The first round of nerves was driven by the question, "What if I screw someone up?" The second round asks, "What if I screw up this as a career?"

Whenever you move forward and court greater success, greater fear always lurks in the shadows hoping to get to you. 

Whether it is starting your first private practice, or starting over somewhere new, it is so easy to lose your confidence. You no longer know the ropes. Everything is familiar, but new.

You knew you could do it, so you tried - but now that you're in it, you wonder if you were wrong.

You're not.

Your fear has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with a false perception of your own ability. 

Human beings tend to base their predictions of the future on their experiences of the past. Since starting something new means by definition there is no exact experience to base it on, the temptation can be to view it as an unproven quality. 

But no matter what your future, there is one thing it can be counted on to have in it - you.

Wherever you exist there is hope for success. That's just a fact.

You want to think of yourself as the problem. After all, you're the one who has "messed up" in the past. 

But you're also the one who's got yourself to this point.

You didn't give up on your dream to be a counselor because the desire to help others got you through your self-doubt in the past. It can do it again. 

Here's the bottom line: You want to escape nerves and stop worrying about your future as a counselor? Believe in yourself and your mission. You're not perfect, and you're definitely flawed, but you're persistent, and you believe in your calling. That's all that is asked of you. 

Lesson of the Day:
You only fail when you give up. Otherwise, it's not over yet. 

Have you ever linked nervousness before sessions to doubt in your own abilities? How have you dealt with that? 

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What techniques should a new counselor use? 

What's Newsies Got To Do With It? 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When to FIRE Your Clients

I preach to you guys all the time about boundaries, ideal clients, and how it's okay to say no to people in your life who are unhealthy or who just don't work well with you.

Just recently, I had occasion to practice what I preach. 

I "terminated" a relationship with someone today who I had repeatedly tried to help. They, like many of you, signed up to access the free trainings at the MYOB conference, and like many of you, had some challenges with the technology. 

But unlike you, this person was rude and unappreciative of my efforts to help them. Literally no one else I dealt with, even when the mistakes were mine, was unkind in any way. Except this person. 

I repeatedly offered solutions that worked well for other people, but all that this person would do was write me back with complaints. The sound wasn't right. The email was confusing. They didn't get the email. (Yet somehow, they responded...mystery?)

My momma taught me to be polite and helpful. But after my writing 7 emails trying to help over the course of the conference, the final straw was two messages sent to me back-to-back just recently.

One email asked, in oddly specific fashion, for "four free downloads" I had supposedly promised them. [I hadn't. I didn't even make or sell the downloads they referred to in the email.]

The other said this:

Every time I write back I don't get a response. I'm very frustrated with your service. 

These emails made me angry. It wasn't hard to figure out why.  

  • I have written this person 7 emails to help them access the free conference, which they didn't read or utilize. 
  • They are claiming I "never" wrote them back when I spent several unpaid hours of work trying to help them access the lessons. A search of my inbox produced 9 emails, 7 of which I had already responded to. (Some of their later emails they sent had subject line re: my emails, so it wasn't like they had gotten lost in the spam folder, either!) 
  • On top of all that, now they're demanding free stuff that I don't even make? What? 

So, if you want to know when it's time to fire a client, here's your answer: 

When the cost to you and the client outweighs the potential benefit. 

I respect myself enough to be DONE with this cycle. I get several emails a day from people who genuinely need support and tips I can give them. (And who will read the responses I write...) I'd rather spend my time talking to them. 

So I responded to one last thing they had brought up, politely, and explained that as the solutions I was offering to them didn't seem to be helpful for them, it was time that we went our separate ways.

Then I removed them from the community email list. 

Here was my essential message in doing so: We've reached the point where working together has become unproductive to us both. So I'm respecting MY time and YOURS enough to end this. 

It might make you squirm a bit to hear this. In fact, this entire topic might be an uncomfortable one for you. I wouldn't be surprised if it was. After all, it's taken me a lo-oong time to get to the point where I was ready to "fire" a client or end an unhealthy business relationship. I still wouldn't say I'm completely there. But experience and something I like to call my philosophy of my role helped me to get close to it. I'd encourage you to read through it and see if any of these principles would be beneficial for you, too, to embrace.

Philosophy of the Counselor's Role:
  • We are service professionals, but not subservient. 
  • It is wonderful to be respectful, but not necessary to cater.
  • We rob from other clients when we allow others to act abusively or unkindly towards us.
  • We go against our prime directive as a counselor (to help others grow into better, healthier people) when we enable poor behavior from our clients. 
  • We are in this professional to build people up - and that includes ourselves!
  • Until you break free of people-pleasing, you will not be able to live up to your maximum effectiveness as a counselor.
Helping others does not mean tearing yourself down so others can ascend. True giving is generative, not destructive. 

My philosophy was affirmed today in the lightness I felt after taking the last step to end this exchange. Before I sent that email terminating our conversation, I felt anxious and apprehensive upon considering hearing from that person again. I would literally dread opening up an email from them. 

But since I sent it, I've felt free. I'm done. And that's enabled me to focus on other projects that are more rewarding and productive. 

If you had to write a philosophy of a counselor's role, what would you say about this topic? Have you ever had a situation in which you might have needed to "fire" a client, but resisted? How did you get through it?

Share below!

(Be careful - don't share any names, locations, or other identifying info. That could get you in trouble.)

*Full disclosure: as always, information not affecting the moral of the story was altered to protect the privacy of others. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

12 Business Tips For Counselors!

Well, the First Annual Mind Your Own Business Virtual Conference for Private Practice Therapists has come to an end. I felt like I was playing hooky last Tuesday night when I just had my regular 5 pm client and then....did nothing. Normally, I would have been on the Facebook group, chatting it up about the latest training! But as great as it all was, I think it was time to take a breather. We all needed a second to absorb all that we learned. 

To help you process what we've learned, and to share with those who weren't able to attend the conference, I've put together some tips I took away for the trainings that we covered. I'd love to hear if MY takeaways were the same, or different, from yours and what you think of them! Comment below.

On Twitter

  • You can easily create a "bank" of 20 "sound-bite tweets" that you can dole out over time through a Tweet delivery service like Hootsuite. These tweets give value to your potential clients by just sharing something informational or encouraging on your subject of expertise, no hashtags or selling.  - Wendy Kier
On Email Marketing
  • It holds constant as one of people's PREFERRED methods of receiving advertising and information, and therefore is an ideal, unobtrusive way to stay in touch with potential clients who might not be ready to make an appointment today. - Sarah Schwab
On Client Attraction
  • "The Red Velvet Rope Policy" refers to the idea that not every client will be right for you or you for them - meaning you are not a failure if every client doesn't match with you. Ironically, being more selective increases your client attraction because you know what you do best and can draw those who will benefit from it to you. - Dr. Deb Legge
On Boundaries
  • Choosing to extend client time unnecessarily or reduce fees without genuine cause creates an imbalance in your relationship with your client that can sabotage your work with them. - Julie Migneault

On Websites
  • Having an online scheduler increases client retention because clients can sign themselves up for an open spot while they're surfing at 3 a.m. - Greer van Dyck, TherapySites
On Making Mistakes
  • The two biggest mistakes I made in my early years of practice was limiting myself and not paying for the services and training I needed to become the kind of counselor I wanted to be. - Yours Truly
On Public Speaking
  • You can encourage people to pay attention to your whole presentation by making sure you know exactly who you're speaking to and tailoring your speech to them.  - Lisa Braithwaite
On Video Marketing
  • If you're starting out and nervous about putting yourself on video, a good way to "ease in" is to use a screencast recording (only captures your screen on your computer, not your face) like - Lynn Ruby
On Therapist Directory Advertising
  • You need a good six months on a directory site to see if it's getting you the clients you need. Sometimes, clients may bookmark your page and not come back till months later. - Elizabeth Doherty Thomas.
On Cyberculture
  • Cyberculture is an aspect of multicultural awareness, and if you do not investigate your client's relationship to technology, you're leaving out a huge part of who they are. - DeeAnna Nagel
On Writing a Book
  • Promote your book and your practice through HARO, a free opportunity to be a source for magazine, news, online and television stories.  - Trudy Scott
On Blogging
  • Don't forget to check out your "digital footprint" - what are people seeing about you online when they search for your practice? - Tamara Suttle
Mind Your Own Business Mastery Kit

If you attended the MYOB conference, What was your biggest takeaway from the trainings you listened to?

If you did not attend, What did you learn today that surprised you? 

Comment Below!