Asking open questions

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Asking open questions refers to a questioning method that does not invite short answers, which increases information flow and trust, and invites the client to reflect and elaborate. While there are times when asking closed questions may be necessary (e.g., gathering information for screening or assessment), in the engaging and focusing processes of MI, open questions help the AOD worker understand the client’s frame of mind, find a clear direction for change, and strengthen the relationship between the client and AOD worker [758]. Certain kinds of open questions are particularly suited to the different processes involved in MI (e.g., engaging, evoking). Some examples of closed and open questions are provided in Table 64. AOD workers may also find the range of open questions provided in Table 66 useful [776], which have been grouped according to the stages of change model [446, 1917]. The goal of open-ended questions is to elicit self-motivational statements from the client [776]. There should be a balance between asking open questions and reflective listening [1847]. Among clients who may be experiencing symptoms of co-occurring mental health conditions, these questions should be simplified. Compound questioning (two questions in one sentence) should be avoided [1847].

Table 64: Examples of closed and open questions

Closed questions Open questions
You’ve come in today because you’re worried about how much alcohol you’ve been drinking lately, is that right? What brings you in today?
Do you have any children? Tell me about your family.
How old were you when you drank alcohol for the first time? Tell me about the first time you drank alcohol.
On a typical day, how much cannabis do you use? Tell me about your cannabis use on a typical day.
Do you think it would be a good idea for you to go into detoxification? What do you think about the possibility of going through detoxification?

Adapted from SAMHSA [1847].

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