Group Psychotherapy Column: What Do You Say After You Say “Hello”?

This set of guidelines closely follows a chapter from my book titled, “Sparky Says Hello” and should be read in connection with this article.

John Breeskin, PhD
John Breeskin, PhD

John Breeskin, PhD

This set of guidelines closely follows a chapter from my book titled, “Sparky Says Hello” and should be read in connection with this article.

My illustration will consist of the questions that I feel need to be asked in this first interview. I understand that the format for an interview is very much idiosyncratic so my comments are no more than suggestions.

These suggestions are generic in nature and can be used for crisis intervention, pre-therapy interviews, for forensic interviews, for group placement evaluations and the like.

Hello, my name is Sarah Smith and I comfortable being called Sarah if that is alright with you. Our job is to interview each other so that you and I can get to know one another and, as a result, we can plan together as to our next step to help you deal with specific nature of the reasons that brings you here today and, additionally, and so we can get a sense of the historical events that contribute to the present situation. In sense, this interview can act as a preview to introduce the main feature which can be called “a part of your life’s journey.”

The first question you are probably asking yourself is, “Can Sarah be trusted?” That particular question is quite appropriate and I hope you can give me the chance to prove that I am trust worthy. I hope that you understand that I am not asking you to trust me just because I am sitting on this side of the desk. I expect to be given your trust in an n old fashioned way: I expect to earn it and I will try to be very clear as attempt to accomplish this goal of earning your trust.

What I will need form you, in this context, is periodic information as to how well or how poorly I am establishing this goal from your point of view.

As the first step, and the most important of all, I hope you will see me as non-judgmental. I do not have any idea as to what is best for you. Only you know that but I promise that I will listen and keep track of where you want to go without any sense of good or bad or any sense of guilt, shame or blame.

The reason that I can be non-judgmental is because you and I are sisters (or brother or a brother and a sister): not biological sisters but I hope you will quickly see that the two of us have shared the same journey and, while the details are different, the overall theme may probably be the same.

From a specific point, of view, with respect to the structure of your participation in this therapy program, I will do an intake evaluation, and, if we decide together it is appropriate, I will present you with a series of options for you to consider.

If you and I succeed in establishing a comfortable style of speaking to one another, the danger is that you might feel abandoned if I pass you on to another person. I would probably feel the same way myself. My wish is that you will take whatever we accomplish together and bring it to the next step of your journey. As a temporary bridge, you can keep me posted as to your decision.

The interview information that we will be looking at are the details of your current situation and your past history. At this point you may ask yourself the reasonable question, “what does my past history have to do with my current situation?” I hope that as a result of our interaction, you will see that the two points in time are connected and that past behavior can guide us to making sense of our current behavior. It will also give us a road map in terms of how to free ourselves form the danger of repeating past problematic behavior and allow you to experiences, perhaps for the first time, a powerful sense of freedom.

In terms of obvious but very important information, the fact that you came in today and that you came to talk to me is an optimistic sign that you want your life to be better. That is a significantly positive step and I want you to know that you being in my office right now strongly suggest that your reward for taking that first step is that your journey will be better and earn my deep respect.

I am looking forward for the two of us getting to know each other better. Please feel free to ask me questions which, I hope, will include questions about myself as another traveler on the road since there can be safety in interacting with other human beings. Of course there is also potential danger as well but you and I must work together through that aspect of human connection.

I hope that you do not see me as talking about myself as trying to compete with you in any way. I see our discussion as an enhancement model and not a scarcity model. I am looking forward to continuing our discussion next week; good bye for now.

I think it is overly optimistic to pack all this information into one session. These ideas probably need to be spread out over at least two or three sessions so these comments can be used as general guidelines. I am quite aware that my style is uniquely my own. Please feel free to modify in terms of your own degree of comfort.





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