Probing skills: hypothetical questions

Hypothetical questions – these are basically an open question that invites the client to hypothesise and to clearly and openly state what they imagine or foresee about future outcomes, and the potential impact of their own and others behaviours. Hypothetical questions are useful for helping clients to verbalise their fears or concerns, and to explore them in relative safety. For example:

Client:      I am worried that if I give up smoking, I will find it so hard. First thing in the morning, after every cup of coffee or large meal, when I’m chatting to my mates, everything I do, involves a cigarette. I don’t know what I’d do without smoking as it permeates my whole life I go into a panic when I run out of cigarettes
Instructor: What do you imagine would happen to you if you gave up for a week?
Client: Oh! I’m not sure really. I suppose I would crave cigarettes all the time and get very irritable with my girlfriend, my family and my mates. I would probably feel like $%£* all the time
Instructor: What if you managed to get through this? How would you feel?

Hypothetical questions are also useful for helping clients visualise positive outcomes and to imagine the outcomes of behaving differently.