Psychotherapy Why Are Therapists' Questions Open-Ended? By Leonard Holmes Updated on September 21, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSW Medically reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Richard Clark / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents 9 Common Questions in Therapy Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions Types of Open-Ended Questions Using Open-Ended Questions in Daily Life If you've ever been in therapy, you have probably noticed that your therapist asks a lot of vague questions. In fact, this has even become a source of humor in pop culture. Bob Newhart's famous question, "How did that make you feel?" has become a standard way to lampoon therapy. But open-ended questions are not only a useful tool in therapy, they are also a good way to start conversations in day-to-day life. Learn the value of these seemingly vague kinds of questions. 9 Common Questions in Therapy Every therapist is different, as are the approaches they may use. These are some common questions therapists may ask at your first appointment: What brings you here today? Have you ever seen a counselor/therapist/psychologist before? What do you see as being the biggest problem? How does this problem make you feel? What makes the problem better? What positive changes would you like to see happen in your life? In general, how would you describe your mood? What do you expect from the counseling process? What would it take for you to feel happier or more at peace? What to Expect During Your First Therapy Session Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions Most therapists are trained to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are ones that allow you to provide whatever amount of detail you want, rather than simply answering "yes" or "no." Open-ended questions encourage you to share relevant material about your life, your way of thinking, and your beliefs. Consider the following sentences: Do you have a good relationship with your parents?Tell me about your relationship with your parents. The material covered is identical, but the answers will likely be very different. The first question is a closed-ended question. The expected reply is "yes" or "no." If a therapist asks that question and gets one of those answers, the ball is back in the therapist's court to encourage a fuller response. With a closed-ended question, a client may choose to say more, but often they do not. What Not to Say to Your Therapist There is another important difference between these two sentences. Number one is a leading question. It introduces the idea of "good" into the client's consciousness. This is not a particularly troubling example of a leading question, but consider a question like, "Did your father sexually abuse you?" Due to the fact that this question may prompt a certain answer, therapists generally avoid asking ones like that. One pitfall to avoid is when your open-ended question is actually closed-ended. Sometimes you craft a question that is complicated and seems to you to be open-ended, but in fact, can result in an answer that is basically yes-or-no. Types of Open-Ended Questions Open-ended questions are likely to feature the typical "who, what, where, when, why, and how" used in good journalism. These questions draw out different kinds of responses that can be useful for a therapist. Who: Elicits insight into relationshipsWhat: Most often leads to factsWhere: Enables discussion about the place the environment took placeWhen: Brings about the timing of a problem, including what happened immediately before and after itWhy: Most often brings about reasonsHow: Enables a person to talk about feelings and/or processes The proper tone of voice is important when asking any question, specifically when asking "why" questions. Starting a question with "why" can seem accusatory and cause a person to respond defensively. Using a non-judgemental tone can prevent this response. Using Open-Ended Questions in Daily Life Therapists aren't the only ones who benefit from using open-ended questions. Anyone can use open-ended questions in their daily life. The truth is, you're much more likely to get a conversation flowing and connect with people when you ask open-ended versus close-ended questions. If you are talking with someone you don't know very well, ask them open-ended questions. In fact, if you think of a question with a yes-or-no answer, see if you can change it into a more open-ended version and ask that instead. The conversation will likely move along more easily, and you will get to know that person on a deeper level. Close-Ended Questions How are you? Do you like your job? Are you an only child? Did you like living there? Open-Ended Questions What's on your mind? Why did you choose this field? Tell me about your family. What was it like living there? 40 Questions to Build Intimacy With Your Partner A Word From Verywell Open-ended questions are not meant to be vague, evasive, or annoying. Rather, they are your therapist's way of getting to know you, like what makes you tick, what you think, what bugs you, what you love, and how they can best help you. Your responses will likely offer them more helpful information than if they were to simply ask "yes" or "no" questions. Consider asking open-ended questions in your day-to-day to prompt the beginning of longer and more insightful conversations, and see how they affect your own relationships. What Are the Effects of Therapy? 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Jawad Hashim M. Patient-centered communication: Basic skills. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(1):29-34. Souders B. PostivePsychology.com. Therapy questions every therapist should be asking. March 18, 2020 Nemec PB, Spagnolo AC, Soydan AS. Can you hear me now? Teaching listening skills. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2017;40(4):415-417. doi:10.1037/prj0000287 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.