Do You Speak Therapist?
Therapists have their own unique (and purposeful) language. We may use clinical jargon when talking to other clinicians, but when we’re with our clients (and most likely, with other significant people in our lives), we are focused and thoughtful. We speak therapist.
Therapy is a tool for self-discovery; as therapists, it’s important to know how to effectively employ this tool. (For example, a hammer, while a useful tool, would not be effective if someone used the handle to pound a nail instead of the head.) What we say and how we say it is powerful: open-ended questions, reflections, clarifications, etc.
The following is a list of questions/phrases I find myself using in individual therapy and group sessions to explore, empathize, empower, and motivate change, including a few versions of the “miracle question” (a question used in therapy that asks the client to imagine what their life would look like if, miraculously, all of their problems disappeared and everything was perfect).
Click below to access a printable PDF version of this list.
Do You Speak Therapist?
1. How are you feeling?
2. How does/did that make you feel?
3. What would happen if you gave yourself permission to feel your emotions?
4. What was that experience like for you?
5. When did you first notice that…
6. When did you first recognize that…
7. What are your current internal experiences and reactions?
8. I’m noticing that…
9. What I’m hearing is…
10. It sounds like…
11. I wonder if…
12. It makes a lot of sense hearing it from your perspective… and, I wonder what would happen if…
13. May I share some feedback with you?
14. Are you open to a suggestion?
15. Would you like to hear a different perspective?
16. May I share my observations?
17. Would you like to know more about [mental health topic]?
18. Some research indicates that [evidence that supports an idea], but other studies have found that [evidence that doesn’t support an idea].
19. Tell more about that.
20. Tell me what that was like for you.
21. Will you say more about that?
22. Can you speak to…
23. I’m not sure I understand.
24. Help me to understand.
25. Correct me if I’m wrong, but…
26. What am I missing? Something doesn’t quite match up…
27. Is there anything else I need to know?
28. Did I hear you correctly when you said…
29. May I pause you for a minute?
30. Can we return to what you said earlier about…
31. It looks like you shut down when I said [previous statement or question]. Can we talk about it?
32. You seem distracted today. Do you want to talk about something else?
33. Do you want to take a break from this topic?
34. What do you think [name of relative/significant other/friend/colleague] would say if they were here in this room with us?
35. If it was [name of relative/significant other/friend/colleague] in this situation, what advice would you give them?
36. What does [belief/action/feeling] look like to you?
37. What does [belief/action/feeling] mean to you?
38. What message did you hear when they said…
39. How would your life be different if you didn’t have [mental illness, an addiction, this problem, etc.]?
40. Was there anything you could have done differently?
41. It sounds like you were doing the best you could with what you had at the time.
42. Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have reacted if in your shoes.
43. You’re the expert on you.
44. I wish I had the answer to that.
45. That’s a really good question. What do you think?
46. On the one hand [client statement or behavior], but on the other [contrary client statement or behavior]…
47. You say [client statement], but your actions say…
48. I’m concerned that…
49. I can only imagine how [emotion word] that was for you.
50. Can we explore this more?
For additional conversation starters and questions, see 161 Questions to Explore Values, Ideas, & Beliefs.