Intake Questions: Starting the Therapy Process

A man looks thoughtful as a therapist asks him questions off her clipboard.“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” –  Louisa May Alcott

There is a multitude of ways to work through stuck places. I use the phrase “stuck places” here as an umbrella under which all reasons people enter into therapy may be categorized. Our reasons are stated in the many and various ways we speak of our particular motivation for calling a therapist. These can range from individual to relationship issues, anxiety to depression, phobias to addictions, loss of identity to gender identity issues, PTSD to Bipolar Disorder—a longer list of issues or circumstances than makes sense to include here.

However we name what has motivated our search for help, the theme can generally be distilled down to “something I/we can’t figure out how to change or feel better about by myself/our selves.” In other words, I need help to move through where I am stuck and repeating what does not best serve me in my pursuit of a happier, healthier life. No one calls a therapist without having tried to figure it out on their own, or having tried things that haven’t worked. And when we do finally make that call it is so important to find someone with whom we can relate and ultimately feel open. We need to feel comfortable delving into what is uncomfortable—and possibly terrifying—with someone who works in a way that makes sense to us. All therapeutic orientations are not equal when it comes to a style and perspective that feels like a good fit.

I find that some people feel Somatic Experiencing is the missing piece for them in their therapy. For others this is not the case. For some people who are new to therapy Somatic Experiencing just makes sense from the first moment, and for others, not at all. The work in therapy is part art in finding the balance, and part having the flexibility to guide someone in their journey in a way that is uniquely right for them.

There are history questions that I generally ask all new people I work with to answer, with some exceptions made for those who I sense aren’t up to the task of my somewhat unusual set of questions. I find that the answers to these questions can be profoundly helpful at times. They offer me a glimpse into the individual’s physiology and the possible inhibitions that might exist from unresolved, overwhelm trauma.

Inhibition in the nervous system can translate to inability to get motivated or inability to take action that is productive toward change. This can lend itself to feeling stuck and unable to create life as one desires. I thought that I would share my history questions in this month’s entry. Perhaps you will see something, remember something, think of something that might be helpful for you in your healing journey; something that you’ve not considered previously as a significant contributor to your stuck place. If you are a clinician and haven’t included these questions you might find them to be helpful in broadening your understanding of the issues you are addressing with people. The questions, including my instructions, are as follows:

  • Write as much as you know about the first two questions. List events for the final questions. Include all years up to the present. Please do not include details. List immediate family members (childhood and current) and ages of siblings.
  1. In utero experience: (i.e. mother smoked? drank alcohol or coffee? medications? other extraordinary circumstances or events?)
  2. Birth experience:  (i.e. mother anesthetized? cord around the neck? induced? c-section? other?)
  •  LIST the following types of events. Please include ages, as best you recall.
  1.  Surgeries and/or injuries of any sort?   (i.e. car accidents? back injuries? stitches and where?, tonsillectomy? bicycle spills? etc.?)
  2. Critical incident-type events? (This can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing of a horrifying event that occurred to others, etc.)
  3. Anything else? (i.e. Dental procedures or traumatic experiences with dentists? Anything not specifically asked?)

The healing journey can be a fascinating, mysterious, meaningful wend along a road that has guideposts, but is thus far uncharted. Sometimes it is a storm through which we must sail. We are unique yet similar, complex but with a basic simplicity, and following a course that is our destiny. Getting sidetracked and lost along the way is part of the journey. It can open us to possibility we had not imagined. The very process of finding our way can bring some of the most unexpected richness and most profound moments of enlightenment that will shine along our path.

I hope my questions can be helpful.

© Copyright 2010 by Sherry L. Osadchey, MA, LMFT, SEP, therapist in Farmington, Connecticut. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 4 comments
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  • hannah

    hannah

    November 23rd, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    I am surprised to know that all these seemingly-insignificant things have such a major role to play and how they can dictate our mental health.

  • april

    april

    November 24th, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    I guess this is like feeling like you always get stuck with the wrong guy? There is something going on inside that makes you get hung up on this track, maybe something like this could help.

  • Sherry Osadchey

    Sherry Osadchey

    November 24th, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    Hannah: I love it when processing these seemingly insignificant things really shifts long standing physical and psychological patterns. Thanks for reading my entry!

  • Sherry Osadchey

    Sherry Osadchey

    November 24th, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    April: Yes! Exactly. We keep repeating things and not sensing the physiological cues that can help us begin to develop a new and more productive track. The old track becomes so rehearsed and automatic. Bringing awareness to the body’s cues and not just unconsciously following the old track is the beginning of change. Thanks for reading this month’s entry!

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