The ‘10 Questions’ technique can be useful when your questions are answered with ‘I don’t know’ or simple yes/no answers (J. Olver, personal communication, April 2011). ‘Yes’, ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know’ answers probably indicate that the person does not understand the question, does not want to answer the question, or is giving you the answer they think you want to hear.
The simple idea behind asking ‘10 questions’ to find one answer is that the counsellor begins with concrete questions and then moves to abstract (more difficult) questions as understanding is built. Sometimes counsellors may need to move back and forward between concrete and abstract questions, but it always makes sense to start with the concrete.
For example, if the overall question you want to ask is ‘How do you feel about your brother moving in with you?’, and the person answers briefly with ‘good’, ‘OK’ or ’I don’t know’, you will need to ask more questions. The following dialogue is a good example of the developing answer that begins with concrete questions and moves to the more abstract questions.
Q. Where does your brother live now?
A. In Adelaide. I haven’t seen him for a long time.
Q. Have you talked to your brother much lately?
A. He rings me every Tuesday night.
Q. When you were kids growing up, did you spend much time together?
A. He looked after me and taught me to ride my bike – he taught me lots of things.
Q. What do you do together when you see him? What would you like to do if he was here?
A. He could show me how to use a computer. He could help me read better.
Q. At the moment you live by yourself. What would be different if he was here?
A. I wouldn’t be scared at night. He knows I’m scared.
Q. And in the day time I know you manage well looking after the house and keeping it tidy?
A. Yes he taught me to do that and I can still do that. Sometimes he can clean and wash too but he could mow the lawn.
Q. He sounds like a good brother, can you tell me something else you remember about him?
A. When Dad was yelling we would go to the park and he’d push me on the swing. That was fun.
Q. Sometimes big brothers can be bossy. Do you think he would do this?
A. He says I’m grown up too now and he can’t boss me.
Q. Do you think your days will be different when he is here?
A. He will go to work so I can still go to the community centre and have time with my carer.
Q. Is there anything else that might be change if he was here?
A. I wouldn’t be lonely.
This use of open questions to elicit responses about the concrete experiences of the client and her relationship with her brother helps the counsellor to get a more detailed understanding of their relationship. This forms an important part of the counsellor’s psychosocial assessment of the client and the safety of her new potential living situation.