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How To Use Circular Questioning In Family Therapy

family systems family therapy family therapy tools therapist tools Mar 09, 2023
circular questioning in family therapy

What Is Circular Questioning?

Family systems therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationships between individuals within a family and the impact these relationships have on their mental health. One of the essential principles of family systems therapy is the concept of circular questioning, a therapeutic intervention used to understand and address problematic relationship patterns within a family.

Other Blog Posts You Might Like: Structural Family Therapy Interventions

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of circular questioning in family therapy, including its definition, its role in family systems therapy, and its various techniques. Additionally, we will discuss how therapists can utilize circular questioning in their practice to promote positive changes and help families heal.

Circular Questioning In The First Sessions - online course

To find the full video along with PDF handouts with a PDF of circular questioning examples that I STILL take into family sessions with me here- it's available for $8.99.  Click here to find more


How Would You Define Circular Questioning?

Circular questioning is a technique utilized in family systems therapy, which involves asking open-ended questions to explore the communication and relationship patterns within a family. These questions are designed to encourage all members of the family to share their perspectives and experiences and gain a better understanding of how their relationships and interactions affect one another.

Circular questioning is different from linear questioning, which is primarily used to elicit specific facts or information. Instead, circular questioning encourages reflection and exploration regarding how the issue relates to others within the family. This form of questioning aims to encourage the family to think outside of their typical communication patterns and find alternative ways to communicate and problem-solve.

The Role of Circular Questioning in Family Systems Therapy

In family systems therapy, the family is viewed as a whole system, and any changes made within the system will impact all members. Therefore, the primary goal of circular questioning is to help families recognize and address any problematic relationship patterns that may be contributing to their issues.

Circular questioning helps therapists to gain a deeper understanding of the family dynamics and to identify the underlying causes of problematic behavior. Additionally, this technique helps family members to recognize how their behavior affects others within the family and promotes empathy and understanding.

Circular questioning is an effective tool for family systems therapy because it encourages all members of the family to participate actively in the therapeutic process. By working together to identify and address problematic behaviors, family members can develop more effective communication patterns and find solutions that work for everyone.

Check out our other video on Structural Family Systems:

How Would I Use Circular Questioning As A Technique?

There are several techniques that therapists can use to implement circular questioning in family systems therapy, including:

BRIDGING THE PAST:  I use circular questioning to bridge events from the past to the present. Using Bowen Family Systems terminology - I use them to find Nodal Events. Circular questions bridge the past and the present together to find a moment in time when a shift in the family occurred. If this moment can be identified, it can give clues as to how to help the family.   

  • Has conflict always happened like this in your family?
  • What was it like before?
  • When did it start happening like this?

 THIRDS: Circular questioning often asks a third person for their thoughts on how a dyad operates. This often breaks an unspoken rule in families that states 'we don't comment about others;. This technique invites reflection on how two people's actions impact the behavior or mood of another. These questions are often used to assess how families respond to their members in different situations.

  • "Dad, when Timmy is showing signs of depression, what do you see Mom do?"
  • "Mom, when Dad is taking care of Timmy, what do you think Dad gets out of?" 


When a behavior occurs or a significant change occurred different family members reacted in different ways. Circular questions help us understand the different ways people reacted and from that we can gauge how close people are, or how distant, enmeshment, and various other ideas.

  • How is this different than before?
  • Who is most likely to comfort Timmy? 
  • Who is least likely?
  • Has this always been true?

By utilizing these and other techniques, therapists can help families to gain a new perspective on their relationships and communication patterns. Circular questioning promotes empathy, understanding, and effective communication, which can lead to more positive and fulfilling relationships within the family.

Circular questioning is a powerful tool in family systems therapy that can help therapists gain a better understanding of the family's unique patterns and dynamics. By using open-ended questions, therapists can encourage family members to reflect on their relationships and interactions and identify any problematic patterns that may be contributing to the family's issues.

To implement circular questioning effectively, therapists must establish trust and rapport with the family, create a safe and non-judgmental space for sharing, and encourage all family members to participate in the session. Through the circular questioning process, therapists can help families develop new ways of communicating and problem-solving, leading to healthier and more functional relationships.


Using Circular Questioning In The First Sessions - online course

Find the full video along with PDF handouts with my cheat sheet of circular questioning examples here- it's available for $8.99.  Click here to find more

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