Interviewing can be divided into two parts: Inter-shared between two or more; and view-act of examining attentively. Therefore, an interview is the act of examining attentively by two or more people. An interview is usually the first meeting between a counselor and the person they are serving. This is a formal relationship and there may be importance in everything that occurs in the session.
As a counselor, our priority is to get to assist the people seeking help to identify what their goals are and to support them as they move to that goal. Many times, people seeking help have belief systems incongruent with their true goals. There has to be resolution to this for the individual to gain peace of mind. In order to best assist, you must obtain information. In our culture, the most prevailing method of gaining information is by asking questions. There is an art to this, but we will cover some interview basics here.
Our codes of ethics tell us that a counselor/counselee relationship is inherently one of a dominant/subordinate and always will be. This is why romantic relationships between counselor/counselee are never appropriate. You must be on guard for signals that you are presenting too far on the side of domination in the session. Allow the person you are working with to take the lead and ask open ended questions as much as possible.
The interview is best structured unless there is a crisis situation. Some counselors obtain their intake information over several sessions, allowing things to move at a slower pace. I prefer to complete a basic questionnaire on the first session. Going through structured questions gives me a chance to put the person seeking help at ease and to gain some initial insight into the person I am working with. If the person seeking help is younger than an adolescent, I will do the interview with the parent and then spend a limited amount of time alone with the child.
My assessment tool is here. I like to write my notes as I talk to the person seeking help and then later, I compile my information in typed format. It is fairly un-intrusive and I usually just say, “Excuse me for writing things down, but it helps me remember important information you may tell me.” I have never had anyone complain. I believe that seeing you write notes makes the person before you feel heard.
I always ask the person I am interviewing what they feel counseling can help them with and try to give them a realistic idea of what I can help with. Sometimes, these are very different things. For instance, a parent wants me to make their child study and get good grades. I once had a patient who wanted me to pretend we had never met, stage a “fake” first couple session and tell their spouse that the marriage needed to end! Needless to say, I did not do this.
An interview should include a review of office rules, boundaries, confidentiality, etc. I always address termination of counseling at this time. People drop out of counseling for many different reasons, but I put it out front that if either of us feels it is time to stop counseling, we will discuss it.
Do you have some favorite techniques you use in an interview? Do you have any questions or comments about this article? I’d love to hear from you. Allison@allisonvelez.com