It can be difficult to know what to talk about in therapy, but it may help to remember the pressure shouldn’t always be on you. Your therapist is a trained professional in asking questions — so let them ask away! That said, some well-meaning conversation starters aren’t always a hit. If I wanted an affirmation, I’d go to Instagram, right? And it’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday so maybe I’m not quite ready to delve into a full family history.
Still, I’m always curious about the questions therapists have up their sleeves, ready to be unleashed whenever an awkward or dull moment strikes. And as it happens, marketing professional Michael Fulwiler recently asked therapists to share their favorite questions to ask during sessions on Twitter.
Some inquiries are more philosophical than I personally would prefer in my therapy sessions, like asking people what they’d do with a magic wand. But as psychotherapist Patrick Turbiville points out, these types of broad, imaginative questions can help open people up to different ways of thinking — even if it takes a little mysticism to get there.
Perhaps it’s a matter of personal preference, but the two questions that left me particularly rattled were more straightforward: 1) “What are we not talking about, that we probably should be?”; and 2) “How is that working for you?”
In a similar Reddit thread, the top-voted therapist’s question was the stone cold, “Do you think that story you’re telling yourself is accurate?” The user ShakenFungus responded with “Damn, that one hurts.” I’d have to agree with them there.
There are many other honorable mentions on Twitter, like, “How is that serving you?” and “Can both things be true?” As well as:
But what can the rest of us non-mental health professionals take from these pointed thought-starters and negative thought-enders? Is it healthy to ask the same questions of each other and ourselves?
Turbiville thinks so, even if asking these sorts of things comes with the risk of making the people we love cagey or uncomfortable. “It would be great if we lived in a world where people asked each other these kinds of questions, but people get squirrely when it comes to emotional content,” he says. Again, though, he says it’s worth it — if anything, it shows that you care.
And in the best-case scenario, putting in more effort into what we ask each other could lead to deeper and more meaningful connections. For instance, Turbiville acutely recalls a friend who once asked him, “How are you feeling?” instead of the usual, “How are you?”
“I still think about that like 15 years later,” he says. “It was that nice.”