Intentional Interviewing


Within the context of the therapeutic exchange, the word ‘intentional’ in ‘intentional interviewing’ seems to suggest that every motion (think micro-skills) a therapist makes should be motivated by a sense of purpose.  Beyond a results driven goal-oriented structure, Ivey, Ivey, and Zalaquett (2010) seem to be proponents of a ‘structured interview’ that remains flexible enough to account for ‘the unexpected,’ and semi-structured enough to account for the multicultural variation of clients.  Given a broad interpretation of culture that could literally represent any number of demographic variables including “age, gender, place of residence; status variables such as social, educational, and economic background; formal and informal affiliations; and the ethnographic variables of nationality, ethnicity, language, and religion;” it is literally impossible for two people to match on every variable.  (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 115)  As a result, I am inclined to suggest that every counseling session should invariably be built on a foundation that advances diversity and diminishes stereotypical generalizations.

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This structured interviewing process is founded on a 5 step process that includes building the relationship, identifying a story and strengths, goals, restory, and action.  The relationship is of paramount importance to the establishment and maintenance of a working alliance between the therapist and the client.  The foundation of the relationship building process is listening.  “It is consistently estimated that 30% of successful counseling and therapy outcome is due to relationship or common factors consisting of caring, empathy, acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement.”  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 19)  None of the above common factors are possible without listening.  Personally, I think 30% is modest.

The story and strengths portion of the interview will be variably determined by the underlying system or theory that is being employed by the therapist.  This is an attempt to determine “where the client is at” as determined by the underlying theoretical premise(s) to which we subscribe.  The authors suggest we be sensitive to themes that would allow us to draw out, identify, and accentuate one or more strengths of the client.  This may be as mundane as acknowledging that the client has sufficient insight to recognize that they needed help, or it may manifest as highlighting adaptive coping mechanisms within the context of the stories told.

Once we have determined “where the client is at,” it is important that we allow the client to verbalize “where they would like to be.”  I have chosen my words carefully because the notion of client autonomy and self determination is paramount to the goal setting process.  Furthermore, this process of goal identification proves useful in focusing motions on the objective.  Ideally, the stories we attempt to cultivate should be relevant to the verbalized goal.  The alternative is a meandering experience without a focal point.

Restory is an element of the equation that I consider to be more of an art than a science.  Restory represents a process whereby we reinterpret and reframe events in an attempt to “help clients generate new ways to talk about themselves.”  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 19)  I liken this portion of the interview to the ‘trial close’ in a sales presentation.  This is a critical element because there is a process of ‘trial and error’ on the part of the therapist whereby we attempt to find a ‘trigger’ in the client that will serve as a catalyst.  Just as no single type of close works on every customer, no single theoretical solution is going to work for every client.  As a result, Ivey and associates suggest we keep an open theoretical stance and remain flexible in our endeavor to find a personalized solution for the each individual client.

Action… action is ‘the test’ to attempt to see if our proposed solution is ‘close enough to the target’ to be effective.  I stress ‘close enough to the target’ because more often than not the colloquial maxim ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ holds up.  If we are successful the client will generalize concepts explored in therapy to the ‘real world’ and subsequently make progress toward his or her stated goal.

There is one specific aspect about this process that I feel the authors have neglected… perhaps this aspect is addressed later in the text, or in another section, but where do ‘implications’ fit into the mix?  In my view, it is absolutely necessary for us to have the client identify the implications of both action and inaction, be they positive or negative.  Through this process, we leverage the relationship to position the action as a solution to the predicament.  In this process, I believe it is imperative that we ask the question ‘What if you choose to try XXXX?’ or ‘What if you choose to do nothing?’  Without a client realizing the implications of the choice, there’s no point in taking the action.  Just food for thought…

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References

Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing & counseling (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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