Effective Communication -Questioning and Summarising

How to maintain a conversation using questioning.

CPD Assessments
Effective Communication - Questioning and Summarising

Effective Communication - Questioning and Summarising

Case Study

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

Hello Gcina, thanks for coming in today. I know you have some things you want to talk about, so where would you like to start?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Well actually, I am very concerned about my brother back home in Durban. I think that the environment in which we grew up is getting the best of him. So one of my plans is to actually finish my studies, get a Master’s degree and hopefully move to Cape Town, be able to bring him with me, also my mom. So, I am kind of concerned about him getting in any trouble more than he already is.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

(Empathy: Reflecting with Content) So you are concerned about your brother obviously and about your mom also?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

And you are hoping to move to Cape Town as quickly as possible so you could help them out?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Right. My mom has done a lot for all the family for so many years. I think it is time for her to relax and if things go as planned, I will be able to provide that for her.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

So you want to get back to your mom?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

Because she has given to you so much over the years?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct. I would not be here if it was not for her and back in Durban, things are really getting difficult with a turbulent environment.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

(Displaying empathy) It feels like things are getting worse there. I guess I am hearing in some ways the urgency that you are feeling.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct. One of my main concerns is the urgency of getting them out and for me to be able to accomplish what I need to as soon as possible.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

So there is urgency of both helping your brother and your mother and getting to Cape Town. It seems like if you got to Cape Town that would be easier to do, with them there.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Yes. Correct. This last time that I went to Durban, it was hard realising that I would not want to go there again. It was home for so long and it does not feel the same anymore. I can’t see myself living there after my studies are complete.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

Okay, so it dawned on you when you were last there, that you are not going to move back there.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct, especially because things are getting worse every time. Actually, today is the burial of a friend of mine that I grew up with. He was killed in gang violence. There is just so much violence there. 

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

(Empathy: Reflecting with Content) So you are not going to feel complete unless you move to Cape Town and help your mom and your brother who has been having some real issues, and the death of your friend is making it more urgent for you to do something to help your mom and your brother.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct, this really worries me. I talk to my mom every Sunday and I ask her how  my brother is doing. He has bad company and feels stuck there with no progress to be made. I worry about the company he keeps as their lifestyle is dangerous. Although my brother does not do crime, he still hangs around with them and other gangs in the area often threaten them.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

And you are feeling like it is a life or death situation for him.

Client: Gcina Sithole

It may come to that. It is likely with his lifestyle. He is younger than I am but looks older, tired and hopeless in a way. It really worries me when I think about him.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

So his lifestyle has in a way drained the life out of him. Again, I hear your love for them and I hear your concern about them. I hear the urgency again of you feeling like you need to do something.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct, yes. I have to do something. I am older and we owe it to our mom. I mean she is doing the best she can but she still worries a lot about him. 

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

And being older, you feel some responsibility towards both your younger brother and your mom.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct, yes. And he is a very hard worker, he is really a hard worker. I know that if I am able to get him out of there, mingle with me in Cape Town -  he will adapt and get a job.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

I think one of the things I am hearing also is kind of the tug, maybe the internal tug that you are feeling between things that you need to finish up here and also your need to take care of them and move to Cape Town. That must be a real struggle for you.

Client: Gcina Sithole

It is. I feel that in order for me to be able to be more effective in helping them, I think I must start something that I really want to do. Go for the Master’s because I think that if I were to accomplish that, I would be more in a position to help them out. But that would take me a few years, so that is my concern, how to try to balance that.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

You can do both of those things?

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

So if you get the Master’s, you are in a better position to help them. But on the other hand, if you get the Master’s, you feel that it might take too long.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Right.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

Well it sounds like - I guess what I am hearing is again, you are concerned about your family, your desire and your wanting to help your family, and you want to do it in the best way possible. Also, that you have a lot of important choices to make for yourself. And that they are pretty difficult choices because people’s lives are at stake.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Correct. Yes. Basically, that is a tough decision to make and I am hoping that I am making the right ones. Yes. Every day I wonder, "Am I doing the right thing?".

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

I am sitting here and thinking that I wish I could make those decisions for you and tell you  what would be the right decision for you and your family.

Client: Gcina Sithole

I agree. I think I am the one that should arrive at that decision. 

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

At the same time, I hope that maybe I can be helpful to you in helping you look at some of the feelings you have inside that will help direct you. So maybe that is something that we can do here and talk about.

Client: Gcina Sithole

Certainly. I guess talking about how I feel might give me a sense of direction. Can I come back the day after tomorrow to talk further about this as I have to go to campus now and chat with my supervisor.

Practitioner: Noma Gumede

Yes Gcina, with pleasure. We will see each other the day after tomorrow. I want to thank you so much for sharing.

The case study above deals with questioning and summarising. 


Questioning and Summarising

We know that active listening is a technique used to get information from clients. Questioning is a method that is used to maintain conversation. There are two types of questions that are asked. 

Types of questions

Counselling questions may be open-ended, probing or clarifying. Essentially there are two types of questions.

A closed question is one used to gather specific information. This type of question can normally be answered with either a short phrase or a 'yes' or 'no' answer.

An open question is one that is used to gather lots of information.  Practitioners ask open questions with the intent of getting a long answer and to keep the client speaking.

Closed questions

Closed questions are those that can easily be answered with a 'yes' or a 'no' or brief information. For example:
  • Where were you born?
  • Did you call the doctor to set up an appointment?
  • Where do you work?
Repeated use of 'closed questions' may result in the client saying less, leaving the counsellor feeling pressured to ask more questions to keep the relationship going.

Closed questions can be used in counselling but the practitioner must recognise when it is appropriate.

Open questions

Open questions have no correct answer and require an explanation of sorts. Below are a few examples of open questions:
  • What brings you here today?
  • Would you know the reason for this to occur?
  • What is your next plan?
  • How are you feeling about that?
A question that contains 'why' might be threatening and overwhelming. It implies judgment and might end the conversation. 

The idea is to keep conversation flowing so that the practitioner can understand what the client truly wants.

Clarifying Questions

Clarifying questions are open questions used by the counsellor to make sure they fully understand what the client means.

Clarification is used so the counsellor does not misunderstand the client's frame of reference.

When a clarifying question is asked, the client has the opportunity to either correct the counsellor or reinforce that the counsellor does understand.

The practitioner has to be in the client's frame of reference as this is an important component of empathy.

Empathic Questioning

When a practitioner asks a question that is inappropriate he/she would disrupt the empathy within the counselling relationship.

Appropriate questioning can strengthen and assist the client. Practitioners must only use questions to clarify their understanding and not to be intrusive or inquisitive about the personal life of the client. Questions that are not related to what is being said should not be asked.

Summarising - Focusing on the Main Points

Effective summarising is when you focus on the main points of a session in order to highlight them. In a beginning summary a practitioner would recall what happened at the last meeting. Summaries are similar to paraphrasing, except they are used less frequently and encompass more information.

Summaries are useful for:
  • Clarifying emotions for both the helper/counsellor and the client.
  • Reviewing the work done so far and to take stock.
  • Bringing a session to a close by drawing together the main threads of the discussion.
  • Beginning a subsequent session, if appropriate.
  • Starting the process of focusing and prioritising 'scattered' thoughts and feelings.
  • Moving the counselling process forward.
An effective summary provides the client with a ‘neat package' that they can go away with; clients would feel understood because the summary matches what they feel. Summarising provides a neat ending without offending or hurting the client’s feelings.

Authors

Sacda

Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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