Questioning to aid Goal Setting and Problem-Solving

Partridge and McCarry note that when the therapeutic relationship becomes problem-saturated, conversations about blame can dominate the discourse and this blame stance has to be shifted to one of appreciation, where all involved have the resources to move the situation on (24).

There is an assertion that “fixing problems can be seen as part of the problem” that may resonate with some school staff. Facing how the problem can be solved involves challenge, change and movement.

White believes that through conversations problems are externalised and the person can separate their actions from their ways of being, and it is from here that they can develop different practices (25). Questioning can become a tool to explore the differences families and students experience and serve to be part of the therapeutic process by bringing about some change in perspective for both the family and the school staff member. Some questions seek to develop the staff member’s understanding with the use of orienting questions, to gain an understanding and perhaps generate explanations. Circular questions are those that explore the interconnectedness of issues with curiosity (26).

How many questions are asked before a meeting starts, during the meeting and after it has taken place? Curiosity creates equity.

Questions we can ask to think of the problem as the problem, explore issues and foster curiosity

What words would you use to describe this problem/challenge/obstacle?

What form does the problem take? What does it look like?

How does the problem affect each of you?

How does the problem operate?

Who manages to deal with the problem best?

When is the problem experienced most often?

What are its (the problem’s) intentions/purposes/motives?

Who/what helps the problem?

How would I know from looking at you that you were experiencing difficulty?

How might the problem change in the future?

(24) Partridge, K. and McCarry, N. (2009) ‘Dissolving blame: systemic therapy in action’, Healthcare Counselling & Psychotherapy Journal, 9(3), pp. 12–16. Available at: (Accessed: 11 May 2022).

(25) White, M. (1995) Re-authoring Lives, Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

(26) Tomm, K. (1988) ‘Interventive interviewing: III. Intending to ask lineal, circular, strategic, or reflexive questions?,’ Family Process, 27(1), pp. 1–15.

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