Using Circular Questioning in Family Therapy: Techniques and TipsMar 09, 2023
How To Use Circular Questioning in Family Systems Therapy:
In family sessions, communication is key to solving problems and improving relationships. Circular questioning is one technique used to help individuals understand the dynamics within their family system. This technique involves asking open-ended questions that encourage reflection, promote empathy, and increase understanding of family dynamics. Most importantly for clinicians, circular questioning helps you understand patterns of interaction that promote or continue the symptoms.
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Effective communication is critical to healthy family functioning, but it is not always easy to achieve. Family conflicts, communication breakdowns, and misunderstandings are common issues that can cause significant stress and tension within the family system. However, by implementing circular questioning in family sessions, individuals can gain insight into their behavior and the behavior of others, leading to improved communication and relationships.
Find out more in the video here or in the course on My People Patterns
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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
Benefits of Circular Questioning in Family Sessions
Encourages reflection : Circular questioning encourages individuals to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By asking open-ended questions, individuals are prompted to think more deeply about their experiences and perspectives. This can help them gain insight into their behavior and how it affects others in the family system.
It increases understanding of family dynamics : Circular questioning can also help individuals gain a better understanding of the dynamics within their family system. By asking questions about specific situations and interactions, individuals can identify patterns and behaviors that contribute to family conflicts or other problems. This increased understanding can lead to more effective problem-solving and improved relationships.
Promotes empathy Circular questioning encourages individuals to consider the perspectives and experiences of others in the family system, circular questioning can promote empathy. This can help individuals develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the experiences and feelings of others, leading to improved communication and relationships.
Examples of Circular Questioning in Systemic Family Sessions
1 "What happens when..."
This type of questioning encourages individuals to reflect on their behavior and the behavior of others in specific situations. For example, "What happens when your partner doesn't respond to your apology?" This question encourages reflection on the impact of specific behaviors on the family system and can lead to improved understanding and problem-solving.
2. "What happens then?"
Circular questioning encourages the family to think in a systemic manner - often families come to treatment with a linear thought pattern which is actually how we all think.
Linnear thinking is - Jimmy is struggling at school, so we need to help him focus"
Circular thinking is more like "What is going on at home, between Mom and Dad that might be impacting Jimmy's sleep so that he can't concentrate at school?"
"What happens next" is a way of finding out the links in behaviors and in relationships - "So Jimmy goes to be and slams his door, what happens next?"
3. "How Do You Explain that?"
This type of questioning encourages individuals to reflect on the behaviors of people in their family, and promotes reflection of dynamics. I call this 'zooming out' - and tell families we are putting on our lab coats, becoming scientists who are watching and studying our own behaviors.
How To Use Circular Questioning In The First Family Therapy Session
I use circular questioning in the first sessions to try and establish a systemic pattern of interaction in the family that occurs around the symptoms. This gives me a cycle of interaction AND ALSO a plan of how to interrupt the cycle so the symptom stops. Watch the video for more!
Circular questioning is a powerful tool for improving communication and understanding in family systems. By asking open-ended questions that encourage reflection, promote empathy, and increase understanding of family dynamics, individuals can gain insight into their own behavior and the behavior of others. By implementing circular questioning effectively and avoiding common mistakes, individuals can promote improved communication, problem-solving, and relationships within the family system.
Structural Family Therapy Interventions and Circular Questioning
One More Thing: Working With Helicopter Parents
If you're reading this, you're probably a therapist or counsellor and you might have come across some anxious parents already. In family systems work, this anxiety is likely part of the symptoms you're being asked to treat, so it's essential that underlying Parental Anxiety is addressed.
I'd love for you to check out the course I made specifically for High Anxiety caregivers (some of which are Helicopter Types) - it's called Grounded Parenting - and it's a Family Systems oriented parenting course designed to help parents understand and lower their anxiety.
If you want to review it yourself before you offer it to a parent or client, I totally get that, send me an email and I'll send you a big discount code so you can watch it first. The discount will just be for you, not your clients, but I want you to have confidence in your recommendations.
Learn more about conflict, family systems and growing great relationships
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