What's Your Conflict Style?

Family Therapy & Circular Questioning With Lots Of Examples

Nov 10, 2023

In the realm of family therapy, the technique of circular questioning stands out as a pivotal tool for unraveling the complex web of interactions and perceptions that shape family dynamics. Circular questioning is more than just a method of inquiry; it's a transformative process that encourages family members and individuals to view their problems from multiple perspectives. It's also hard to really get without examples, so this post and the video is FILLED with examples of how to use this awesome technique. By employing circular questioning examples in sessions, therapists can show the intricate patterns of communication that cause behaviors that often go unnoticed.

This blog and the video attached is filled with real examples you can take home and use today in family sessions.

Get the free handout PDF that is packed with examples here: 



While circular questioning is often associated with family therapy, its utility extends far beyond these settings, proving to be equally effective when working with individual clients. In one-on-one therapy sessions, circular questioning can be a powerful tool for helping clients explore their own thoughts, behaviors, and relationships from a systemic perspective. By using circular questioning examples, family therapists can assist individuals in uncovering how their interactions with others, even in their absence, shape their beliefs, feelings, and actions. 

A: Circular Questioning and Problem Definition 

The initial phase in circular questioning is centered on comprehending the client's perspective of the problem. In family sessions, I would have each family member answer this question. This step is crucial as it involves delving into the client's understanding and perception of the issue at hand. It's not just about identifying the problem but gaining a deeper, more dimensional understanding of it. This approach helps uncover the layers and complexities of the issue as seen and experienced by the client and family members.

The therapist for example, uses questioning to encourage the client to delve into deeper self-reflection and systemic thinking. This process helps the client to not only articulate their feelings but also to start understanding the underlying reasons and implications of their shyness.

Problem Definition & Circular Questioning Examples:

  1. "What impact does being shy have on your relationships, family, and daily life?"
  2. "Can you recall a time when being shy affected you or your family? ?"
  3. "How do you think your friends and family perceive your shyness?"

B: Operational Description Examples of the System

The 'Operational Description of the System' is a critical step in circular questioning that focuses on understanding the specific actions and reactions associated with the problem. This stage is about moving from a general or vague understanding of an issue to a more concrete and detailed comprehension of behaviors and interactions. It's an exploration of the 'how' and 'what' of the problem,.

This involves asking the family or client questions that pinpoint specific behaviors and responses.  Additionally, comparing past and future scenarios can be insightful, examples here:

Operational Description Circular Questioning Examples

  1. "Have you always been shy?" 
  2. "What would it look like if you weren't shy at a party?"
  3. "Describe your behavior and feelings in a recent situation where you felt shy."
  4. "How do you react when someone tries to engage with you in a social setting?"

C: Client Theory

The 'Client Theory' aspect of circular questioning delves into the beliefs or theories that clients hold about their problems and how these beliefs shape their interactions with others. This component is crucial as it uncovers the client's internal narrative and assumptions, which often play a significant role in how they perceive and respond to situations. 

This involves questioning clients and family to challenge or reflect on and articulate their own theories about their problems. Family therapists might encourage clients to consider how their behavior might be perceived differently by others. For instance, a person who sees themselves as shy might be perceived as aloof or disinterested by others in their family. This discrepancy between self-perception and external perception can be eye-opening for clients.

.Client Theory Circular Questioning:

  1. "What do you believe are the reasons behind your feeling of shyness in social situations?"
  2. "How do you think your family members perceive your behavior, and how does that differ from your own view?"
  3. "What are your theories about why certain situations make you feel anxious?"

D: Interventions

The 'Interventions' stage in circular questioning is about actively challenging the client's existing beliefs and perspectives and introducing new ways of thinking about their problems. The therapist's role here is to introduce new information, suggest alternative perspectives, and encourage the client to consider different possibilities and outcomes. I use these questions in family sessions to help the entire family change and see things differently. 

his is achieved through various techniques, such as positive connotations and hypothetical questions. For example, a therapist might reframe a client's shyness as an expression of politeness or respectfulness. This reframing can shift how clients view their behavior, opening up new avenues for change. Hypothetical questions also explore how life might be different without the problem or if different choices were made. 

Intervention Circular Questioning:

  1. "If you approached social situations with confidence instead of shyness, how do you think others would respond to you?"
  2. "Imagine a scenario where your shyness is seen as a sign of thoughtfulness – how would that change your view of yourself?"
  3. "What if you were to express your opinions more openly in meetings – how might that affect your professional relationships?"

If you want more on important circular questioning types in family therapy- click here.

Practice your Family Therapy Interventions with examples here.

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