CHAPTER THREE Assessment Skills

Now it’s your turn! The assessment phase of the helping process includes a number of important skills that will help you obtain the information you need to move through it. This information will provide the foundation for its other phases. In fact, taking the time to thoroughly assess the applicant, the situation, and the needed services contributes to a more effective and efficient experience for all participants.

Exercise 1: The Initial Interview—The Applicant’s Perspective

Helpees have a lot to teach us about the helping process. The following accounts relate the experiences of three helpees as they describe their initial interview.

Client I

I made a (self-referral) telephone appointment to talk with a professional who briefly advised me to bring documentation of current earnings, my most recent tax return, a current rent receipt and telephone bill, a copy of my separation or divorce decree, and a current bank statement (and other records, ad infinitum) with me to our meeting. The site of our meeting was a day-care center located near several housing projects and homes. This center helps families find in-home child care for residents from all parts of the city. When I arrived for my early morning appointment, the receptionist asked me to take a seat. After waiting one half-hour beyond my scheduled appointment time, the receptionist called my name and escorted me to the office of the professional who would interview me.

She was sitting behind her desk talking on the phone and motioned for me to take a seat. I again waited at length while she completed her telephone conversation. At that point, she acknowledged me with a rather perfunctory, “Sorry to keep you waiting. It’s been a crazy morning. Have any problem finding us? Good. Let’s get started. Did you bring all the documentation that we’ll need? Let’s see what we have here”—all in one breath. The desk that separated us served as a physical barrier to any feelings of warmth, caring, interest, acceptance, or respect, which I would have welcomed. In fact, I remember feeling that she was contemptuous of me; but I wonder, in retrospect, whether my own distaste at having to ask for assistance or respect influenced my perceptions. My interviewer immediately delved into evaluating and processing reams of application paperwork. She was not interested in any other aspect of my life. She never asked if I needed any other help, financial or otherwise. She didn’t offer information on any other resources that might have been available to me. In fact, she rarely made eye contact, but remained detached and businesslike. The experience felt much more like an interrogation than an interview. She fired questions at me, as she demanded each document that I was required to bring with me: “How much money do you receive from the child’s father each week? Why don’t you want to place your child in our day-care program instead of the satellite program? You indicated that you don’t own a car—if it’s that inconvenient for you to get here, how did you get here today?”

At the conclusion of our meeting, she explained the accounting procedures, indicating that I would pay the agency directly for services rendered by a satellite caregiver. Payment would be based on a sliding scale based upon my income and ability to pay. She then dismissed me, never getting up from her desk, as she advised me that I would hear from her just as soon as my application was reviewed for acceptance by her supervisor. In fact, I did not here from her at all but received a phone call from the day-care center.


List what you learned NOT to do in the initial interview.


Rewrite each negative you listed in Item 1 as a positive statement that will guide your behavior as a helping professional in the initial interview.

Client II

I don’t think anyone ever told me exactly what their job was. See, I was very subservient to anybody in that area because I was scared. I mean literally scared to death. I had a phobia of failing and having everything jerked out from under me.

Here’s what I think a helper should do. Clients are not numbers, so they shouldn’t be treated like Client Number 4622 or a Social Security number. When you tell a client that the appointment is at 3:00 P.M., then the appointment is at 3:00 P.M. Nothing should interfere with that. I am going to treat my clients that way.

I think clients are already intimidated before they ever come in. They have a feeling that the help could be taken away at any time. That is something else every caseworker should do, reassure the client that as long as they fulfill their obligations, they can’t lose the help they are getting. That was one of my biggest fears, and I was so afraid of it, I would not even ask. I would not even bring the subject up.


List what you learned NOT to do in the initial interview.


Rewrite each negative you listed in Item 3 as a positive statement that will guide your behavior as a helping professional in the initial interview.

Client III

The very first time I went to a meeting at DHS was to get help for myself, my daughter, and my ex-husband. When I went back the second time to apply for assistance for myself and my daughter, I ended up getting a really wonderful worker. I was walking on eggshells and I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to do. I had no self-esteem, no self-respect. I was in the gutter and I didn’t know where to go. And didn’t know which end was up. My worker helped me.

I had another worker though who was awful. I had already started school and my worker changed. I went to this other worker, and she made me feel like dirt: “Here you are getting benefits, and you are not doing anything to help yourself. You are not even trying to find a job.” It was just like I was a nobody. She didn’t give me anything, and here I was doing everything I could. Her view was, I was on welfare, and I was a welfare mother, and that was all I was ever likely to be. In fact, I did go to her supervisor over that because it did hurt. And by that point I was strong enough to really voice how I felt. Had I had her in the beginning, I don’t think I would have been able to do anything about it, but later on when I gained the confidence through going back to school and through support group meetings, and counseling, I was able to see that what she was doing wasn’t fair to me. In fact, she ended up being taken off case management in DHS.


List what you learned NOT to do in the initial interview.


Rewrite each negative you listed in Item 5 as a positive statement that will guide your behavior as a helping professional in the initial interview.

Exercise 2: The Initial Interview Summary

One purpose of the intake interview is to assess an individual’s eligibility for services. The intake interview form in this exercise has information that was gathered during an interview at a mental health facility. A case manager interviewed a person who was referred by professionals at the hospital. Eligibility for services is determined by matching needs with services. The treatment team that will review the intake information includes a social worker, the intake case manager, a nurse, a physician, and the director of psychiatric services. Before the treatment team meets to determine eligibility, each member will read an intake summary prepared by the case manager.

You are charged with preparing the written intake interview summary. At this facility the summary is organized around the following items:

· ■ Worker’s name, date of contact, date of summary

· ■ Applicant’s demographic data: for example, name, address, phone number, agency applicant, Social Security number

· ■ Source of information during the intake interview

· ■ Presenting problem and client strengths

· ■ Summary of background and social history related to the problem

· ■ Previous contact with agency

· ■ Diagnosis summary statement

· ■ Treatment recommendations


Read the intake interview form carefully. If some of the abbreviations are unfamiliar to you, see the legend at the end of the form.

Legend: Abbreviations used in form:

ct client
M mother
SF stepfather
N/A not applicable
c with
tx treatment
DC discharge


Using the organizational headings listed at the beginning of Exercise 2, write an intake summary based on the information provided on the intake form you just read.


What difficulties did you encounter in “putting the pieces of the puzzle” together?


Did you need more information to write the summary? What additional information would you like to have had?


Are you confident of your recommendations? What is the basis for your confidence or lack of confidence?

Exercise 3: Careful Assessment

The following case studies are about Susanna, James, Samantha, Alicia, and Montford, all homeless children attending school. The principal of the school has asked you to conduct an assessment of these children and provide initial recommendations.

Before you begin this exercise, go to the website that accompanies this book:  Chapter Three , Link 1, to read more about homeless families and children.


Susanna is 15 years old. The city where she lives has four schools: two elementary, one middle, and one high school. There are about 1,500 students enrolled in the city/county school district and about 450 in the local high school that Susanna is attending. For the past six months, Susanna has been living with her boyfriend and his parents. Prior to this, she left her mother’s home and lived on the streets. She is pregnant and her boyfriend’s parents want her to move out of their home. Her father lives in a town with his girlfriend, about 50 miles from the city. Her mother lives outside the city with Susanna’s baby brother. Right now Susanna’s mother is receiving child support for the two children. Susanna wants to have a portion of the child support so that she can find a place of her own to live. Her mother says that the only way that Susanna can have access to that money is to move back home. Susanna refuses to move back in with her mother.

You receive a call from the behavior specialist at Susanna’s high school. Susanna’s mother is at the school demanding that Susanna be withdrawn from school. Susanna’s mother indicates that Susanna will be moving in with her and will be enrolling in another school district.

Currently Susanna is not doing very well in school. She misses school and she tells the helper it is because she is tired and that she does not have good food to eat. She has not told the helper that she is looking for a place to live. Right now she is failing two of her classes and she has one B and two Ds. Her boyfriend has missed a lot of school, too.

James and Samantha

James is 10 years old and he has a sister, Samantha, who is 8. At the beginning of the school year, both of the children were attending Boone Elementary School. Both children live with their aunt and uncle; their parents are in prison. In the middle of the school year, the aunt picked up the children one afternoon and told them that they were going to move that evening. They picked up their clothes and a few toys and moved into a shelter. They didn’t know that this was a shelter for women and children who were being abused. The children were brokenhearted to leave their school. They had good friends there; James was head of the safety patrol and was the star of the choir and drama club. Samantha played with her best friend Carrie every day and all of her friends called her the “teacher’s pet.” Samantha says that she understands why she needs to go to another school, but James is angry that he has to transfer. The staff at the shelter tried to work out transportation back to the school but school officials told James and Samantha’s aunt that the children could not transfer back into the old district. James and Samantha are referred to the school behavioral specialist.

Alicia and Montford

About a year ago, Alicia and Montford, ages 6 and 7, moved into the New Horizon homeless shelter for families. They have been living there with their mom and dad for the past six months. The family may only stay at the shelter until the end of the month. The assistant principal at the local elementary school just called you to ask for assistance. Both Alicia and Montford are not performing very well in school and they are constantly fighting with their classmates and with their teachers. Neither of the children can read at grade level. Both have low math scores, and they have limited social skills. For example, yesterday Montford hit a kindergarten girl because she broke in line in front of him. He told his teacher to “go to hell” when she took him to the principal’s office. He never completes his work and never brings his homework to school. If the teacher sends a report home for his mom and dad to sign, he does not return the form.

Alicia tries to fade into the background at school, and she is equally unresponsive. She will not talk in class to her classmates or to her teacher. She just sits in the classroom and stares or puts her head on her desk. At recess she sits in the corner by herself. If she is made to play with the other children, she cries and runs off.

Because the state tests begin in the next month, the teacher and the principal are concerned about Alicia’s and Montford’s scores. The school has been on probation because of the regulations from the No Child Left Behind Act. Every score is important to the school administration. You, as the mental health services coordinator, have been called to talk with the parents about motivating these two children.


Describe your reactions to each of these students. Discuss their parents and the relationship they have with them.

Susanna: __________________________________________________________________

James and Samantha: _______________________________________________________

Alicia and Montford: _______________________________________________________


Sometimes we write about our clients using subjective language instead of objective language. Making interpretations, failing to indicate the sources of our information, and labeling represent challenges to objective writing. Review the information you provided about Susanna, James, Samantha, Alicia, and Montford and use the following items to evaluate your objectivity.


List phrases that go beyond factual information. Rewrite in terms of evidence and not your own opinion.

·  Phrase 1: Beyond factual information

·  Rewrite phrase 1

·  Phrase 2: Beyond factual information

·  Rewrite phrase 2

·  Phrase 3: Beyond factual information

·  Rewrite phrase 3

Citing Direct and Indirect Observation

Look for phrases that do not indicate the source of the information presented. Indicate if the information does not come from your own observation.

·  Phrase 1: No indication of source

·  Rewrite phrase 1

·  Phrase 2: No indication of source

·  Rewrite phrase 2

Using Labels

Sometimes it is easier to write about clients using labels that you believe communicate information about the client. Labels may be negative or positive. Look at your descriptions and indicate where you used labels to describe the client or the client’s situation.

·  Phrase 1: Indicate where labels are used


·  Rewrite phrase 1

·  Phrase 2: Indicate where labels are used

·  Rewrite phrase 2

Exercise 4: Case Notes

Case or staff notes are a type of documentation, discussed in  Chapter Two , that provides a written record of each interaction between a helper and an applicant or client. Although the format for case notes varies from setting to setting, they are always an important part of the case file.

A beginning helper who has six different clients wrote the following case notes. Critique each case note. What is helpful about the information? What questions does each case note raise?

· ■ 4-1-XX Client seemed in a hurry. We talked briefly about how she is dealing with her stress. Client says she is getting overwhelmed by all her responsibilities but is getting through them. She also mentioned her excitement about this weekend.

· ■ 2-24-XX Worker observed client taking Strong Inventory Test. Worker was not there.

· ■ 3-3-XX 2:25 P.M. Said she is okay.

· ■ 3-5-XX 3:15 P.M. Said she was well and laughed.

· ■ 3-8-XX 2:00 P.M. Not home, left message.

· ■ 11:15 P.M. Phone was busy.

· ■ 11:30 P.M. Phone still busy.

· ■ 6-15-XX 3:30 P.M. Client stated that he was doing well, he had a “fun weekend,” and identified no new problems at this time.

· ■ 4-1-XX I tried to contact client Sue Jones by phone today between 8:30 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. I called four times but line was always busy. Everything should be going well.

· ■ 9-10-XX I called Janie to find out why she missed our appointment. She stated she forgot. She is working a lot.

Exercise 5: First Impressions

The intake interview is a starting point to provide help. During a successful intake interview, the helper establishes rapport with the client by demonstrating respect, empathy, and cultural sensitivity. The helper who conducts the intake interview also presents a positive environment that ensures confidentiality, eliminates physical barriers, and promotes dialogue. Cultural insensitivity on the helper’s part may convey attitudes of sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, and/or ageism. These may occur when the helper makes unwarranted assumptions about the client based upon the helper’s stereotypes of that population. In the following clips on the Wadsworth website, < >, three individuals relate situations where they experienced cultural insensitivity or discrimination.

Phil describes an appointment for a hearing screening.


Describe the problem Phil experienced.


How did Phil feel about this experience?


How would these feelings help or hamper the helping relationship?

Nicole shares a family experience buying a car.


Describe the problem Nicole experienced.


What is the goal of the car salesperson?


How did Nicole feel about the experience?


How would her feelings help or hamper the process of closing the deal on a car?

Tracey recounts an interview for a job.


Describe the problem Tracey experienced.


Explain the two assumptions that the interviewer made about Tracey.


How did she react to these assumptions?


How did Tracey feel about the interview and the interviewer?



What do these experiences have in common?


What have you learned from the experiences of Phil, Nicole, and Tracey?

Exercise 6: Using the Strengths-Based Approach

Think about a change you would like to make. Identify the problem that you would like to address and complete the form ( Figure 3.1 ) that follows.

Figure 3.1 Strengths Identification Form


Review the description of motivational interviewing. How would you apply motivational interviewing to the problem you identified in Question 1?

Exercise 7: Strengths-Based Approach to a Case Study

The following case introduces Joe, a homeless male. A brief case summary describes his current status and  Figure 3.2  represents a strengths-based assessment of Joe. 1

Service Plan: Homeless Adult

Homeless Joe, a 55-year-old male, SS# 555-55-5555, Axis I: Schizophrenia, Paranoid, 295.30; Alcohol Abuse, 305.0; Axis II: deferred, 799.9; Axis III: Anemia; Axis IV: problems with social environment, occupational problems, housing problems, economic problems, other psychosocial and environmental problems; Axis V: Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) at time of admission to case management services (CM), 40. Joe is a Vietnam veteran. While in the military, he was a radio operator, then a paramedic on the front line. He was honorably discharged in 1969. He completed two years of college before being drafted. He grew up in a small, lower-income community outside a larger town. He has an older brother, but has little to no contact. A social worker (SW) at the regional mental health facility had seen Joe in the neighborhood where she lives, walking to and from town for many months. A year ago, the SW saw Joe walking home in the snow late one night and gave him a ride. She gave him a ride several times after that. At that time Joe was working nights at a dialysis clinic. Several months later, the SW saw Joe almost daily sitting in a field in the neighborhood. Some mornings it was evident Joe had spent the night sleeping in the field. The SW had often seen Joe purchase beer and snack food in the grocery. Joe had been arrested several times in the winter for intoxication. Recently the SW saw Joe living in a tent at the end of a dead-end street behind the grocery store. He usually appeared clean and in neat clothes but occasionally was wet and dirty. Attempts to talk with Joe indicated he was experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations and was very paranoid about his environment. He was guarded and anxious when engaged in conversation. He did state he occasionally worked mowing and doing yard work for a man who lives near his “tent house.” Joe indicated he liked living outdoors and did not like confined settings. Joe was admitted to the regional mental health hospital in January, intoxicated and responding to internal stimuli. While in the hospital, he was referred for CM services. At the initial interview, he refused CM services. The SW, who had met Joe in the community, became aware of Joe’s reluctance and, with the CM, visited Joe twice a week during his inpatient stay. When he was ready for discharge, he had agreed to CM services, but he was fearful of coming into the clinic for medication. He discharged on a ×1 month Haldol Dec (one month’s dosage). He has met with his CM at his tent three times. They have talked about Joe’s mental illness, his history, and what he would like to work on with the CM. It does not appear that Joe has had any prior mental health services, except for brief stays in the Veterans’ hospital in 1970, 1989, and 1995. He has not taken any medication, other than while in the hospital. He drinks beer “when the voices are too loud.” He has lived transiently, except for brief stays with family or in missions in three different states. His only income is from doing yard work and odd jobs when he can get them. He says he is tired of moving around and wants to stay in his home community. Today, the CM wants to talk with Joe about his service plan.

Figure 3.2 The Strengths/Resources Assessment in the Seven Domains “Homeless Joe”


You are meeting with Joe to talk about a plan. How might you focus on strengths to engage Joe in the helping process?


Describe how you would use motivational interviewing to help Joe change his present situation.


By focusing on Joe’s strengths, what would you hope to accomplish in each of the three helping phases?





What additional information would you like to have about Joe that would facilitate a strengths-based approach?


What resources do you think are available for Joe? How would you find out?

In More Depth: Forming Impressions of Others

Chapter Two  explores assessing the client, documenting the intake interview, and writing case notes. Characteristics of quality assessment and well-written documentation include objectivity and clarity. At times, the basic assumptions that helpers make about their clients prevent them from making objective assessments or writing balanced or factual case notes. When helpers make assumptions about their clients, they may have formed impressions of them without proof or factual information.

So how do we form this subjective impression of others? Let’s look at four concepts that social psychology deems important in assessing others: (a) the sources of information, (b) snap and systematic judgments, (c) attributions, and (d) cognitive distortions (Weiten, Lloyd, Dunn, & Hammer,  2009 ).

Sources of Information

Every day we are bombarded with sensory input about the people we encounter. To manage this quantity of data, which determines how we react, we use various sources and types of information to categorize the data and form impressions of others. Many times this categorization occurs very quickly, and often we do not even know that we are forming impressions (Williams, n.d.). We believe that we are seeing people as they really are. The sources of impression formation include appearance, verbal behavior, actions, nonverbal messages, and information about situations. For example, you are meeting a client for the first time in the client’s home. A scantily clad woman with vivid makeup and bleached blonde hair (appearance) opens the door. She says, “Who are you? What do you want?” (verbal). You see her holding a small child very tightly in her arms; she is frowning at the child (nonverbal). Before you have a chance to answer, she slams the door in your face (action). This is a home visit and the client’s name is on the mailbox by the door; you are investigating an alleged child abuse reported by the next-door neighbor (situation). In this example, each of the sources of data exists; appearance, verbal and nonverbal messages, and actions add information about the situation. What type of impression did you form of this woman?

Let’s look at how we form snap and systematic judgments as we meet individuals for the first time and then as we encounter these individuals again.

Snap and Systematic Judgments

As we form impressions of others, we use snap judgments to record our first impressions. Unless there is a strong motivation to go beyond these first impressions, we often retain them (Sherman, Stroessner, Conrey, & Omar,  2005 ). Because each of us has so much information to process, we become “cognitive misers.” This means that we depend upon automatic processing to summarize and make judgments of others. With automatic processing, we make impressions quickly; these impressions come from many of our previous experiences of other people.

There is another way to process this information by using controlled processing, or taking your time to identify your first impressions and consciously moving beyond them (Neuberg & Fiske,  1987 ). Controlled processing is time-consuming and difficult. It includes thinking about whether the categories and opinions you are using to make judgments about others are accurate. It is easy if the information you receive fits your traditional way of thinking. But if the information challenges your first impressions, then you have to gather additional information and come up with new categories. This is hard work.

Without this type of intentional reflection, individuals take their quick opinions and begin to make systematic judgments of others. Think about your first impressions of the woman at the door described in the preceding section.

· ■ Describe her in three words.

· ■ What was her reaction to you?

· ■ Why did she react as she did?

· ■ What was her relationship to the child?

· ■ Why was she holding the child so tightly?

If you can generate more than one answer to each of these questions, it is easier to move beyond initial assumptions and determine what information you need to understand this woman at a deeper level.

Another way in which we form impressions of others is using attribution or ascribing causes for an individual’s behavior or situation. We use attribution to make assumptions of why individuals behave the way they do.


When we make attributions, we assume we know the causes of another’s behavior. These attributions contribute to how we form impressions of others. Sometimes we believe that individuals are responsible for their own behavior. Other times we believe individuals are victims of their environments (Adams & Betz,  1993 ). For example, as you think about the scantily clad woman described earlier, do you believe that her dress is her own responsibility? Or did another individual or a social norm “cause” her to dress in that fashion? If you believe that she is responsible for her dress, then you ascribe internal attribution, believing that she chooses to dress and act the way she does because of her personality, characteristics, or abilities. If you believe she is responsible for herself, then you think she must accept the consequences for her actions. If you believe that her dress and behavior is not only her personal responsibility, but that she also is under social pressure to dress and act in a certain way, then you ascribe external attribution. In other words, the responsibility for her action and behavior does not just rest with her, but also with society.

The “fundamental attribution error” (Gilbert & Malone,  1995 ) occurs when we tend to explain the behavior of others using personal rather than situational or contextual causes, without knowing the facts. In other words, behavior is a choice of the individual and is influenced by personal characteristics such as temperament, personality, traits, values, and interests. A description of the woman who slammed the door, based upon the fundamental attribution error, might include many of the following comments:

·  Boy, is she dressing to get attention. She must have a need to be noticed and must be trying to dress provocatively to gain the attention of the men she encounters. The way that she slammed the door means that she knows exactly who I am and why I am here. She does not want me to come in and question her about her behavior to her child. She was holding the child too tightly and she looks like she was trying to hurt the child.

This account takes into consideration situational factors that might or might not explain the reasons for her behavior. Correct or incorrect assumptions might explain the reasons she is dressing as she is, call into question her knowledge of the helper’s visit, include the effects of any previous visits she has had from strangers or what happened in the house before she heard the knock on the door, or provide other reasons for her holding the child tightly.

Ascribing reasons for behaviors or circumstances without information is likely to cause errors in how we form impressions of others. Cognitive distortion is another way in which we may form erroneous impressions.

Cognitive Distortions

As stated earlier, many times we process information about others quickly; we often lack the motivation to pay attention to details and to question what these details mean. Cognitive distortions occur when we choose an easy way to define others by using social categorization and stereotyping. Social categorization occurs when we define others as “them” or “us.” By categorizing according to nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, and other groups, we quickly assign characteristics to individuals in those groups. And, if it looks like an individual is not in our group, then he or she immediately falls into the group of “the other.” In other words, those who are not similar to us become part of the “out” group. Members of our “in” group have very positive characteristics and are viewed in a favorable light. Th ose in the “out” group are different and have more negative characteristics. Let’s return to the woman answering the door. In what ways does she belong to “your” group or groups? In what ways is she different? Would you consider her to be part of the “out” group or the “in” group? Why?

Stereotyping is another way we create cognitive distortions. When we stereotype others, we immediately ascribe characteristics just because they belong to a certain group. Phrases such as “all women,” “most men,” “Catholics are” and “Hispanics always” denote stereotyping. Many stereotypic beliefs that we hold are not obvious to us. In fact, we confuse stereotypes with facts. How do we know when we are using stereotypic or factual thinking? One signal occurs when we are surprised by the behavior of others. When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised when an elderly man or woman competed and won a physically based sporting event or someone with a serous mental illness was able to maintain stable employment? The surprise you felt indicates that the individual violated the norms or stereotypes that you have for a particular group.

Now that you are more familiar with different ways that you form impressions of others and are aware of barriers to that process, let us examine how this knowledge helps you as a helper engage in assessment and report documenting.

Exercise 8: Bridget—Is She “In” or “Out”?


Bridget is 22 years old and a drug addict. Her parents were divorced in her early teens. She changed high schools three times. Her father is an alcoholic and her mother is clinically depressed. She has been in jail nine times and she has been in and out of hospitals for the past five years with various illnesses. Her boyfriend physically abuses her. For the past three years, Bridget has been involved in illegal activities to get money for drugs or to get drugs. Right now she is a convicted felon, and she could receive a sentence of six months in the penitentiary or six months on probation. She wrote bad checks and was caught with drug paraphernalia. Bridget has just found out that she is pregnant with a girl. She does not know who the father is.

Bridget has a brother and two sisters. She grew up in a suburban neighborhood. In her early teens, her dad admitted that he was an alcoholic. He left home to “get some help” but never came back. He divorced Bridget’s mother two years later. The family had to move out of the neighborhood into a smaller house. They had to move again to a house that charged less rent. Changing schools with each move, Bridget began to use drugs to help her belong to an “in” crowd.


What are your first quick impressions of Bridget?


Why do you think you made those first quick impressions?


Bridget moved out of her mother’s house during her senior year and moved in with her father. Bridget’s father was dating every night and he knew only a little about what Bridget was doing. She was using drugs daily, including marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth—and she was now living with her boyfriend. Bridget worked at a local grocery store. Her boyfriend was selling and using drugs. Bridget attended school sporadically. She graduated and passed the local and state tests. After graduation, she continued living with her boyfriend. Her work record was irregular and she kept changing jobs. At the age of 20, Bridget and her boyfriend traveled to Mexico to buy drugs. Their plan was to buy the drugs and then sell them in the United States. Bridget made the trip to Mexico successfully. But on the return trip, she was stopped by the police just after she crossed the border. She was jailed for possession. She called her family, but they decided that they would leave her in jail for one night. Bridget was released on bail. Her boyfriend was already out of jail on bail. They found their car and unloaded the drugs that the police did not find. She was arrested soon after that, but she had a false I.D. The police ran the I.D., discovered who she was, and then arrested her again.


What are your more systematic judgments of Bridget?


How have these changed from your first impressions? Why do you think that these impressions changed?


Bridget stayed out of jail for three months. She was then arrested for prostitution. This time she spent almost four months in jail. She was placed on probation and lived in a halfway house. During that time she received a chip from Alcoholics Anonymous for 100 days of sobriety. Bridget decided that she would move back home, so she began to live with her mother. She got a job, paid rent to her mother, and then moved into her apartment. She took her boyfriend back. Before long, she began using drugs again. Her boyfriend continued his physical abuse. She lost her job for irregular attendance and spent her money on drugs. That summer Bridget was hospitalized with pneumonia. Her physical health had deteriorated. She weighed only 90 pounds, and she had lost most of her hair and some of her teeth. While she was in the hospital many of her family came to visit. They all wanted to help her. Bridget refused. All that she could think about was going back to her boyfriend and the drugs.


Do you think that Bridget is responsible for her situation (internal attribution) or is her environment responsible? Explain the rationale for your answer.


How might the “fundamental attribution error” apply to your thoughts about Bridget?


Once Bridget was out of the hospital, she moved in with two friends. Her boyfriend joined her there. She continued to use drugs. She stole checks, food, and medicine. Bridget sold the drugs that she didn’t use. She was arrested again. In the jail, she tried to commit suicide. The police took her to the hospital. She was placed on suicide watch. During a routine physical exam, Bridget found out that she was pregnant. She waited for three months for a court date. She was placed in rehabilitation for six months and on probation for three years. It is clear that if she violates the law again, she will go to prison.

Currently, Bridget is four months pregnant and has no idea who the father of her child is. She is in rehabilitation. Her mother comes to visit her. Right now she is clean.


To which social categories does Bridget belong? To which social categories do you belong?


In what ways is Bridget in your “in” group and your “out” group? How does this influence your impressions of her and how would this influence your initial assessment of her?


Did you or could you stereotype Bridget after reading the first two paragraphs? Describe the stereotype. After knowing a more complete story, does the stereotype remain?



Write your explanation of confidentiality that you would provide to an interviewee.


Your goal in the initial interview is to obtain information. Would you be more comfortable conducting a structured interview or an unstructured interview? Why?


What would be your biggest challenge in fulfilling the report writing and documentation responsibility?


Adams, E. M., & Betz, N. E. (1993). Gender differences in counselor attitudes toward and attribution about incest. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 40, 210–216.

Gilbert, D. T., & Malone, P. S. (1995). The correspondence bias. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 21–38.

Homeless Education Program. (n.d.) Case study I: Homeless liaison networking session. Retrieved from

Neuberg, S. L., & Fiske, S. T. (1987). Motivational influences on impressions formation:

Outcome dependency, accuracy-driven attention, and individuating processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 431–444.

Sherman, J. W., Stroessner, S. J., Conrey, F. R., & Omar, A. (2005). Prejudice and stereotype maintenance processes: Attention, attribution, and individuation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 607–622.

Weiten, W., Lloyd, M. A., Dunn, D. S., & Hammer, E. Y. (2009). Psychology applied to modern life: Adjustment in the 21st century (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Williams, R. (n.d.). Social perception/attribution. Retrieved from

1Source:  Material adapted from personal communication from Debby Lovin-Buuck, 2004.

CHAPTER FOUR Effective Intake Interviewing

·  Intake occurs every Monday morning at 8:00. A pre-intake is a precaution with referrals from the court system. We want to protect our other clients. So these referrals are often on parole or probation and during the pre-intake, I consider attitude, any violent behavior history, and the presence of any communicable diseases.

— Mission Director, Miami

Interviewing is described in the previous chapter as directed conversation or professional conversation. Many helpers consider it an art as well as a skilled technique that can be improved with practice. In the helping process, the intake interview is a starting point for providing help. Its main purpose is to obtain an understanding of the problem, the situation, and the applicant. A clear statement of the goals of the interview helps both participants reach the intended outcomes. In the example above, the goal of intake is to screen referrals for several factors.

A number of factors influence interviewing in the helping professions. Some factors apply directly to the interviewer, such as attitudes, characteristics, and communication skills. Others are determined by the agency under whose auspices the interview occurs: the setting, the purpose of the agency, the kinds of information to be gathered, and recordkeeping. This chapter explores many of these factors.

The intake interview is usually the first face-to-face contact between the helper and the applicant. In some agencies, the person who does the intake interview will be the helping professional whose primary responsibility is intake interviews. Interviews are also a part of the subsequent helping process, and some of the skills used in the intake interview apply there, too. This chapter uses the term interviewer to refer to the helping professional who is conducting the interview.

This chapter is about effective interviewing: the attitudes and characteristics of interviewers, the skills that make them effective interviewers, how these skills are used in structured interviews, and the pitfalls to avoid when interviewing. We refer you to  Figure 4.1 to review the place that intake interviewing has in the helping process. For each section of the chapter, you should be able to accomplish the following objectives.

Attitudes and Characteristics of Interviewers

· ■ List two reasons why the attitudes and characteristics of the interviewer are important to the interview process.

· ■ Describe four populations of clients that require a culturally sensitive approach.

· ■ Name five characteristics that make a good interviewer.

· ■ Draw a physical space that encourages positive interactions between the client and the interviewer.

· ■ List barriers that discourage a positive interview experience.

Figure 4.1 The Helping Process

Essential Communication Skills

· ■ List the essential communication skills that contribute to effective interviewing.

· ■ Demonstrate three interviewing skills.

· ■ Support the importance of listening as an important interviewing skill.

· ■ Offer a rationale for questioning as an art.

· ■ Write a dialogue illustrating responses that an interviewer might use in an intake interview.

Interviewing Pitfalls

· ■ Name four interviewing pitfalls.

Attitudes and Characteristics of Interviewers

The attitudes and characteristics of an interviewer are particularly important during the initial interview because this meeting marks the beginning of the helping relationship.

Research supports the view that the personal characteristics of interviewers can strongly influence the success or failure of helping (Capuzzi & Gross,  2009 ). In fact, Brammer and MacDonald ( 2003 ) concluded after a review of numerous studies that these personal characteristics are as significant in helping as the methods that are used.

One approach to the attitudes and characteristics of interviewers focuses on the self and on the treatment of the other person. Th ose related to self include self-awareness and personal congruence, whereas respect, empathy, and cultural sensitivity are among the attitudes related to treatment of another person. Similarly, elsewhere in the literature, other perspectives on helping attitudes and characteristics have as common themes the ability to communicate, self-awareness, empathy, responsibility, and commitment (Woodside & McClam,  2009 ).

The interviewer communicates a helping attitude to the applicant in several ways, including greeting, eye contact, facial expressions, and friendly responses. The applicant’s perceptions of the interviewer’s feelings are also important in his or her impression of the quality of the interview. Communicating warmth, acceptance, and genuineness promotes a climate that facilitates the exchange of information, which is the primary purpose of the initial interview. The following dialogue illustrates these qualities.

·  INTERVIEWER: (stands as applicant enters) Hello, Mr. Johnson (shakes hands and smiles). My name is Clyde Dunn—call me Clyde. I’ll be talking with you this morning. Please have a seat. Did you have any trouble finding the office?

·   APPLICANT : No, I didn’t. My doctor is in the building next door, so I knew the general location.

·  INTERVIEWER: Good. Sometimes this complex is confusing because the buildings all look alike. Have you actually been to the Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun (pointing to the applicant’s shirt)?

·  APPLICANT: No, I haven’t. A friend brought me this T-shirt. I really like it.

·  INTERVIEWER: They certainly are popular. I see them all over the place. Well, I’m glad you could come in this morning. Let’s talk about why you’re here.

The interviewer communicates respect for the applicant by standing and shaking hands. It is also easy to imagine that Clyde Dunn is smiling and making eye contact with Mr. Johnson. Clyde takes control of the interview by introducing himself, suggesting how Mr. Johnson might address him, and asking him to have a seat. His concern about Mr. Johnson finding the office and his interest in the T-shirt communicate warmth and interest in him as a person. Clyde also reinforces Mr. Johnson’s request for help in a supportive way. All these behaviors reflect an attitude on Clyde’s part that increases Mr. Johnson’s comfort level and facilitates the exchange of information.

The positive climate created by such a beginning should be matched by a physical setting that ensures confidentiality, eliminates physical barriers, and promotes dialogue. It is disconcerting to the applicant to overhear conversations from other offices or to be interrupted by phone calls or office disruptions. He or she is sharing a problem, and such events may lead to worries about the confidentiality of the exchange. Physical barriers between the client and the interviewer (most commonly, desks or tables) also contribute to a climate that can interfere with relationship building. As much as the physical layout of the agency allows, the interviewer should meet applicants in a setting where communication is confidential and disruptions are minimal. It is preferable to have a furniture arrangement that places the interviewer and the applicant at right angles to one another without tables or desks between them and that facilitates eye contact, positive body language, and equality of position.

A sensitive interviewer is also cognizant of other kinds of barriers, such as sexism, racism or ethnocentrism, ageism, and attitudes towards sexual orientation or disabilities. Problems inevitably arise if the interviewer allows any biases or stereotypes to contaminate the helping interaction. To help you think about your own biases and stereotypes, indicate whether you believe each of the following statements is true or false.

T F Boys are smarter than girls when it comes to subjects like math and science.
T F Men do not want to work for female bosses.
T F Mothers should stay home until their young children are in school.
T F Women cannot handle the pressures of the business world.
T F Asians are smarter than other ethnic groups.
T F People on welfare do not want to work.
T F People who do not attend church have no moral principles.
T F A mandatory retirement age of 65 is necessary because people at that age have diminished mental capacity.
T F The older people get, the lower their sexual interest and ability.
T F Gays are incapable of commitment in relationships.

How did you respond to these statements? Each statement reflects an unjustified opinion that is based solely on a stereotype of gender, race, age, or attitude toward sexual orientation.

Sensitivity to issues of ethnicity, race, gender, age, and sexual orientation is important when interviewing. Many clients and families have backgrounds very different from that of the interviewer. In the United States today, an increasing number of the population originates from non-European backgrounds, a large number of clients are women, and the population proportion of elderly people is increasing rapidly. For many people in these populations, life is difficult, and they have few places to turn for help. Many of them live in poverty, have inadequate education, have a disproportionate chance of getting involved in the criminal justice system (either as a victim or a perpetrator), possess few useful job skills, are unemployed, and suffer major health problems at a disproportionate rate (Anderson & Middleton,  2005 ).

Interviewers should ask themselves, “How do I become sensitive to my clients and relate to them in a way that respects and supports their race, culture, gender, age, and sexual orientation?” The following points may be helpful. These points are also important to consider during the assessment phase that we talked about in the previous chapter.


It is easy to stereotype cultural, racial, gender, or age groups, but clients cannot be understood strictly in terms of their particular culture. For example, poverty-stricken, homeless clients share values and experience similar life events, but they are not all the same. Interviewers must take special care to get to know each individual client rather than categorizing him or her as a member of one particular group. One interviewer for example, explained how she struggles to see each individual as unique: “I see one face and then I see ten familiar faces. It is important to see every face as a different one, no matter what you think the outcome will be.”


Do not assume that words mean the same to everyone who is interviewed. When questions are posed, clients sometimes do not understand the terminology. Likewise, words or expressions that clients use may have a very different meaning for the interviewer. For example, questions about family and spouse are familiar subjects in an intake interview. When clients talk about “partners” or “family,” these terms can have various meanings, depending on the cultural background and life experiences of the individual being interviewed. For example, in the Native American culture, the family is an extended one that includes many members of the clan. For gay men and lesbian women, the word partner has the special meaning of “significant other.”

Another example of language having different meanings is when working with a client who is deaf. One general rule of thumb is to avoid idioms and figurative language, such as “Cat got your tongue?” Someone who is hearing impaired may respond “Where is the cat?” after interpreting the phrase literally. A second general rule is to be aware of words with multiple meanings. For example, hard may mean difficult or it could mean rigid or unyielding. Words with multiple meanings are difficult for individuals with hearing impairment.


Clients may show up for the interview without understanding its purpose or the role of the interviewer in the helping process. Confidentiality may also be an important issue for them—sharing information about themselves and others may be contrary to the rules of their culture. For example, for many people raised in Asian cultures, to describe a problem to someone who is not in the family implies making the matter public, an act that is believed to bring shame to the family.


It is easy to make the mistake of expecting the clients we serve to be like us. We begin the interview process wanting to find similarities as a way of building a bridge to them. When clients prove to be very different, or we cannot understand them, we often want them to change so that they will be easier to “manage.” In the United States, we often like to think of our country as a melting pot in which all cultures mix together and lose their original identities. When individuals do not want to lose their own culture, there is a tendency to blame them for being difficult. Interviewers must take special care in the interview process to let clients know that there is respect for differences.

We have assembled some suggestions for developing sensitivity in interviewing individuals with certain cultural backgrounds (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue,  2004 ; Gilligan,  1982 ; Slattery,  2004 ; Sue & Sue, 2007). These are meant to be guidelines and points of awareness; they should be used with caution. As we mentioned earlier, individuals seldom exhibit all the characteristics of their cultural group.


In many Native American cultures, sharing information about oneself and one’s family is difficult. It is important not to give others information that would embarrass the family or imply wrongdoing by a family member. Listening behaviors such as maintaining eye contact and leaning forward are considered inappropriate and intrusive in some Native American cultures. For many Native Americans, trust increases as you become more involved in their lives and show more interest in them. Making home visits and getting to know the family can significantly improve an interviewer’s chances of getting relevant information. Native Americans tend not to make decisions quickly. The slowness of the process could influence how soon the client is willing to share information or make judgments.

Native American cultures sometimes incorporate a fatalistic element—a belief that events are predetermined. During the initial stages of the process, the client may not understand how his or her responses and actions can influence the course of service delivery.


Individuals living in the United States who are of Mexican, Central and South American, or Caribbean ancestry are often referred to as Hispanic, Latino, and Chicano. There is actually little agreement on the appropriate term for identification across groups and even within subgroups. Although they share some commonalities, they may differ in appearance, country of origin, date of immigration, location and length of time in the United States, customs, and proficiency in English. Interviewers should be sensitive to terminology and avoid stereotypes.

Many cultures with this common background view informality as an important part of any activity, even the sharing of information. Taking time to establish rapport with the client before direct questioning begins is helpful.

Some people of this origin may be perceived as submissive to authority because they appear reticent or reluctant to answer questions. Their behavior, in fact, may be shyness or the natural response to a language barrier.

The father may be seen as aloof as he performs his roles of earning a living for the family and establishing the rules. The mother and other members of the family tend to assume more nurturing roles. Questions that do not take these roles into consideration may be misinterpreted by the clients or may suggest to them that the interviewer is an outsider incapable of understanding the culture or of helping them.

Fatalism often plays a role in these cultures. These clients may not see any point in discussing the future, preferring to talk about the present.


Many African Americans do not believe that they receive the same treatment from social service agencies and professionals as Caucasian Americans. Reactions to this belief include a distrust of the human service delivery system, anger about discriminatory treatment, or both. This distrust may result in a reluctance to share information during the intake interview. During the intake interview, it is important to focus on concrete issues that can be connected to services. This approach shows respect for the client’s right to expect fair treatment and quality services (Sue & Sue, 2007).

When being interviewed by a Caucasian professional, an African American may feel powerless or believe that his or her input does not matter. Consideration of cultural values such as family characteristics, extended family and friends, educational orientation and experiences, spirituality, and racial identity may help demonstrate to the client that his or her input does matter (Sue & Sue, 2007).


Many women do not know how to talk about the difficulties that they are experiencing, and they may not know how to respond to the questions they are asked. Some have had few opportunities to discuss their problems and may believe they do not have the right to complain. Listening carefully is very important.

Anger may play a part in the initial interview. Many women come to the helping process frustrated, either because their efforts have been unrecognized or because they believe that others expect them to be perfect. Often this anger must be expressed before any information can be gathered.

Women often feel powerless and do not expect the bureaucracy to serve them well. They may be reluctant to communicate and doubtful that the interview or the process as a whole can make a difference.

Women may also fill different roles in their lives that may conflict or cause confusion. When interviewing about client strengths, women from some traditional cultures in the United States may defer to males and elders and subordinate their own individuality, yet at work and at school, they may be assertive and confident (Gil & Vasquez,  1996 ). Without exploration, these differences may be perceived as weaknesses while in fact, the flexibility and role shifts may be strengths. Learning about roles and demands contributes to an understanding of the client’s situation.

Women may be overly dependent as clients and assume that the interviewer will take complete control of the interview. They may want the interviewer to be the one to identify problems and possible goals. In such cases, care should be taken to give the woman opportunities and encouragement to respond more fully.


In this society, elderly people are often disregarded and devalued. The interviewer must show respect for the elderly client’s answers and opinions about the issues discussed. Such a client needs to be assured that his or her responses are important and have been heard by the helper.

Pay special attention to the elderly client’s description of support in his or her environment. Many live in an environment of decreasing support (changing neighborhood, death of friends) and with decreasing mobility. Others live with limited family support. These clients may not realize how their environment has changed.

Elderly clients may be reluctant to share their difficulties for fear of losing much of their independence. They may understate their needs or overstate the amount of support they have, hoping to avoid changes in their living conditions, such as being removed from their homes or relinquishing their driving privileges.


Although individuals with disabilities are not traditionally considered a cultural group, it is important to develop a sensitivity to the issues these individuals may encounter. Attitudes toward people with disabilities are often based on the amount of information and education about disabilities and on the amount of contact a person has had with individuals with disabilities (Atkinson & Hackett,  2004 ). These factors are also the best predictors of positive attitudes toward people with disabilities (Yuker,  1994 ). Helping professionals working with this population need to know about mental, physical, and emotional disabilities; the onset of disability; acceptance of disability; disabilities as handicaps; accommodations; and treatment.

A major source of information about a disability is the client. As with other clients, establish the helping relationship by building rapport and trust. Then address the disability or condition: Is it the problem? If not, does it affect the problem? Is it even related to the reason the client is seeking services? Don’t make assumptions about why the individual is there or about the disability, and don’t generalize. Each person is unique. Interviewers also need to increase self-awareness about their own attitudes and knowledge. Know your limits and control your reactions. Increase your knowledge by learning from your client about a particular disability, the difficulties faced, and the environmental situations that are problematic.


In this society, discrimination against members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community is practiced in religious, legal, economic, and social contexts. This discrimination exists as an obvious external practice as well as a more subtle internal practice. To begin work with individuals who are part of the GLBT community, interviewers need information about lifestyle issues and challenges these individuals confront. Issues include understanding the effects of prejudice, developing a positive identity, and becoming more aware of community resources. Th ose in the GLBT community also experience a loss of support from family and friends and are often victimized and harassed. One way interviewers can establish a positive atmosphere is by using non-heterosexist language such as “partners” instead of “husband and wife.” Intake forms also can be revised to use non-heterosexist language (Sue & Sue, 2007). It is also important to conduct intake interviews that focus on the special issues described earlier that this community experiences.

These are only a few of the differences that helpers may encounter during the intake interview with individuals of various ethnic, racial, gender, and age groups. In several ways, helpers can continue to learn more about how to interview culturally diverse clients. Among them are becoming knowledgeable about other cultures, reading professional articles that focus on ways to modify the interviewing process to meet the needs of certain client groups, and talking with other helpers whose own cultural origins give them insight into cultural barriers. Gaining an understanding of diversity is a process that continues throughout the professional life of every effective helper. Such an understanding enhances the interviewing environment for both parties.

Essential Communication Skills

Communication forms the core of the interviewing process. In interviewing, communication is the transmission of messages between applicant and helper. As the first face-to-face contact, the interview is a purposeful activity for both participants. In many cases, the motivation is a mutual desire to decide whether the applicant is in the right place for the needed services. This is a negotiation that is facilitated by  effective communication skills .

An important skill that promotes the comfort level of the applicant and lays the foundation for a positive helping relationship is using language the person understands. This means avoiding the use of technical language. For example, terms such as eligibility, resources, and Form 524 may not mean much to an applicant who is not familiar with the human service system. Another example is to imagine that the interviewer is discussing the benefits of taking a vocational or interest test. Rather than going into detail about the validity or reliability of the test, the helper should discuss how it might help in establishing a vocational objective. Using language or words the applicant does not understand tends to create distance and disengagement.

Congruence between verbal and nonverbal messages is another way to facilitate the interaction between an applicant and a helper. A major part of the meaning of a message is communicated nonverbally, so when conflict is apparent between the verbal and nonverbal messages, the applicant is likely to believe the nonverbal message. A common example of this is the person who says, “Yes, I have time to talk with you now,” while dialing the phone or looking through her desk drawer for a folder. The lack of eye contact or any other encouraging nonverbal message communicates to us that the person is indeed busy or preoccupied with other matters.

Another skill that facilitates the interview process is  active listening —making a special effort to hear what is said, as well as what is not said. An interviewer who is sensitive to what the applicant is communicating, verbally as well as nonverbally, gains additional information about what is really going on with the individual. This ability is particularly helpful in situations in which the presenting problem may differ from the underlying problem and when interviewing an individual from another culture. Later in the chapter, we present a more detailed discussion of listening as it relates to the intake interview.

A popular way to elicit information is by asking questions.  Questioning  is an art as well as a skill. Unfortunately, helpers don’t often develop their questioning skills, relying instead on questioning techniques that have served them well in informal or friendly encounters. Typically, this means asking questions that focus on facts, such as “What happened?” “Who said that?” “Where are you?” “Why did you react that way?” Questions such as these usually lead to other questions, placing the burden of the interview on the helper and allowing the applicant to settle into a more passive role. The applicant’s participation is then limited to answering questions, so the interview may begin to feel like the game “Twenty Questions.” Skillful questioning combined with effective responding helps elicit information and keep the interaction flowing. Appropriate questioning and responding techniques are introduced later in this chapter.

Patterns of communication vary from culture to culture, according to religion, ethnicity, gender, and lifestyle differences. In the dominant culture in the United States, it is effective to use a reflective listening approach when feelings are important. Many of the techniques that are useful in this approach are not appropriate for all cultures. For example, eye contact is inappropriate among some Eskimos. The sense of space and privacy is different for Middle Easterners, who often stand closer to others than Americans do. Some people from Asian cultural backgrounds may prefer more indirect, subtle approaches of communication. Th us, a single interviewing approach may have different effects on people from various cultural backgrounds. The skillful and sensitive helper must be aware of these differences.

Both spoken language and body language are expressions of culture. Many helpers work with clients from several cultures, each with their own assumptions and ways of structuring information. Both talking and listening provide many occasions for misunderstanding. Assigning great significance to any single gesture by the applicant is also risky, but a pattern or a change from one behavior to another is meaningful (Sielski,  1979 ). Once again, the key is the helper’s awareness during the interview process.

Now that you have read about general guidelines for essential communication, let’s focus on the specific skills of listening, questioning, and responding.

Interviewing skills aim to enhance communication, which involves both words and nonverbal language. Spoken language varies among individuals and cultures. Understanding spoken language is challenging because it is always changing, it is usually not precise, and it is ambiguous. Body language, which is also important and challenging to understand, includes body movement, posture, facial expression, and tone of voice. Knowing the ways in which body language varies culturally can help the interviewer fathom the thoughts and feelings of the applicant.

In talking with an applicant, the helper must strive for effective communication, making sure that the receiver of the message understands the message in the way the sender intended. In the intake interview, the helper listens, interprets, and responds. To understand the applicant’s problem as fully as possible, the helper constantly interprets the meanings of behaviors and words. He or she should always have a “third ear” focused on this deeper interpretation.

At the same time, the applicant is interpreting the words and behaviors of the interviewer. An effective interviewer can help the applicant make connections and interpretations. Also contributing to correct interpretations and connections is a good working relationship between the two of them, good timing, and sensitivity to whether the material being discussed is near the applicant’s level of awareness.

A caseworker at a settlement house describes the initial meeting at her agency. She is sensitive to how clients are treated this first visit; she expresses concern that without sensitive treatment, the clients may not return.

·  Telling a potential client to “come back later” may be the very thing that discourages the person who has finally and perhaps even agonizingly decided to come for help. It is possible the person will never return.

A particularly challenging group to work with are gangs. Establishing a relationship is critical and involves talking about cars, the neighborhood, girlfriends, or clothes—anything but crime. A Los Angeles law enforcement officer uses this approach to identify commonalities. Once a comfort level is established, then a gang member will often share what’s happening in the neighborhood.

Both of these helping professionals are experienced at intake interviewing. They value the helping relationship and recognize its importance in the service delivery that is to follow. To establish the relationship, they use communication skills, such as listening, questioning, and responding. These are discussed and illustrated next, with excerpts from intake interviews.


Listening is the way most information is acquired from applicants for services. The interviewer listens to the applicant’s verbal and nonverbal messages. “Listening with the eyes” means observing the client’s facial expressions, posture, gestures, and other nonverbal behaviors, which may signal his or her mood, mental state, and degree of comfort. Verbal messages communicate the facts of the situation or the problem and sometimes the attendant feelings. Often, however, feelings are not expressed verbally, but nonverbal messages provide clues. A good listener should be sensitive to the congruence (or lack of it) between the client’s verbal and nonverbal messages. The interviewer must pay careful attention to both forms of communication.

Good listening is an art that requires time, patience, and energy. The interviewer must put aside whatever is on his or her mind—whether that is what to recommend for the previous client, the tasks to be accomplished by the end of the day, or making a grocery list—to focus all attention on the applicant. The interviewer must also be sensitive to the fact that his or her behavior gives the applicant feedback about what has been said (Epstein,  1985 ). During the interview, the helper must also recognize cultural factors that play into the interpretation of body language. For example, the proper amount of eye contact and the appropriate space between helper and applicant may vary according to the cultural identity of the applicant. As you can see, listening is indeed complicated. What behaviors characterize good listening? How are attentiveness and interest best communicated to the applicant?

Attending behavior, responsive listening, and active listening are terms that indicate ways in which helpers let applicants know that they are being heard. The following five behaviors are a set of guidelines for the interviewer (Egan,  2010 , pp. 134–135). They can be easily remembered by the acronym SOLER.

·  S: Face the client Squarely; that is, adopt a posture that indicates involvement.

O: Adopt an Open posture. Crossed arms and crossed legs can be signs of lessened involvement with or availability to others. An open posture can be a sign that you’re open to the client and to what he or she has to say.

L: Remember that it is possible at times to Lean toward the other. The word lean can refer to a kind of bodily flexibility or responsiveness that enhances your communication with a client.

E: Maintain good Eye contact. Maintaining good eye contact is a way of saying, “I’m with you; I’m interested; I want to hear what you have to say.”

R: Try to be relatively Relaxed. Being relaxed means two things. First, it means not fidgeting nervously or engaging in distracting facial expressions. Second, it means becoming comfortable with using your body as a vehicle of personal contact and expression.

Attending behavior  is another term for appropriate listening behaviors. Eye contact, attentive body language (such as leaning forward, facing the client, using facilitative and encouraging gestures), and vocal qualities such as tone and rate of speech are ways for the interviewer to communicate interest and attention (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett,  2010 ). Attending behavior also means allowing the applicant to determine the topic.

Other guidelines for good listening are provided by Epstein ( 1985 , pp. 18–19):

· 1. Be attentive to general themes rather than details.

· 2. Be guided in listening by the purpose of the interview in order to screen out irrelevancies.

· 3. Be alert to catch what is said.

· 4. Normally, don’t interrupt, except to change the subject intentionally, to stop excessive repetition, or to stop clients from causing themselves undue distress.

· 5. Let the silences be, and listen to them. The client may be finished, or thinking, or waiting for the practitioner, or feeling resentful. Resume talking when you have made a judgment about what the silence means, or ask the client if you do not understand.

Skillful listeners also hear other things that may contribute to understanding what is going on. A shift in the conversation may be a clue that the applicant finds the topic too painful or too revealing, or it might indicate that there is an underlying connection between the two topics. Another consideration is what the applicant says first. “I’m not sure why I’m here” or “My probation officer told me to come see you” give clues about the applicant’s feelings about the meeting. Also, the way the applicant states the problem may indicate how he or she perceives it. For example, an applicant who states, “My mother says I’m always in trouble,” may be signaling a perception of the situation that differs from the mother’s. Concluding remarks may also reveal what the applicant thinks has been important in the interview. The skilled interviewer also listens for recurring themes, what is not said, contradictions, and incongruencies.

Good listeners make good interviewers, but as you have just read, listening is a complex activity. It requires awareness of one’s own nonverbal behaviors, sensitivity to cultural factors, and attention to various nuances of the interaction. It is further complicated by the fact that people seeking assistance don’t always say what they mean or behave rationally. However, the use of good listening skills always increases the likelihood of a successful intake interview.


Questioning, a natural way of communicating, has particular significance for intake interviews. It is an important technique for eliciting information, which is a primary purpose of intake interviewing. Many of us view questioning as something most people do well, but it is in fact a complex art. This section elaborates on questioning skills, introduces the appropriate use of questions, identifies problems that should be considered, and explores the advantages of open inquiry as one way to elicit information.

Questioning is generally accepted by some as low-level or unacceptable interviewer behavior (Carkhuff,  1969 ; Egan,  2010 ). Others view it as a complex skill with many advantages (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2003). Let’s explore its complexity and its advantages. Long, Paradise, and Long ( 1981 ) give three reasons that questioning is a complex skill: Questioning may assist and inhibit the helping process; it can establish a desired as well as an undesired pattern of exchange; and it can place the client in the one-sided position of being interrogated or examined by the helper.

For these reasons, we may consider questioning an art form. The wording of a question is often less important than the manner and tone of voice used to ask it. One human service professional says: “I think that people have to be detectives. . . . They have to enjoy walking into a new setting and seeing what is there. . . . It is not just going out with your 12-page assessment form and asking alienating questions.” Another helper who works for a school for the deaf concurs: The “skills are those involved with being a private eye, nosy in a tactful way.”

Also, too many questions will confuse the applicant or produce defensiveness, whereas too few questions place the burden of the interview on the client, which may lead to the omission of some important areas for exploration. The pace of questions influences the interview, too. If the pace is too slow, the applicant may interpret this as lack of interest, but a pace that is too fast may cause important points to be missed. A delicate balance is required.

What are the advantages of questioning? One is that questioning saves time. If the interviewer knows what information is needed, then questioning is a direct way to get it. Questioning also focuses attention in a particular direction, moves the dialogue from the specific to the general as well as from the general to the specific, and clarifies any inaccuracies, confusion, or inconsistencies. Let’s examine some examples of the appropriate uses of questioning. After each example provide two relevant questions.

To begin Could you tell me a little about yourself? What would you like to talk about? Could we talk about how I can help? You work at the county Office on Aging. A woman comes in with her elderly mother. List two questions that you might use to begin the interview.

To obtain information How long did you stay with your grandmother? What happens when you refuse to do as your boss asks? Who do you think is pressuring you to do that? Can you give me an example of a time when you felt that way? A client tells you about mistreatment by her boss at her new job. She claims that she is being sexually harassed. What two questions would help you understand what happened?

To focus Why don’t we focus on your relationship with your daughter? What happens when you do try to talk to your husband? Of the three problems you’ve mentioned today, which one should we discuss first? A client is worried about how her surgery will go, who will care for her children while she is in the hospital, and whether she will be fired for missing so much work. She wrings her hands and seems ready to burst into tears. What are two questions that would focus her attention?

To clarify Could you describe again what happened when she left? How did you feel about that conversation compared with others you have had with him? What is different about these two situations? A young man shares his anguish over his mother’s death a year ago. You notice that he is smiling, and you are confused about what he is really saying. Write two questions that help clarify what is going on.

To identify strengths What is a current problem you have also faced in the past? Can you now use the same resources to solve your current problem? What did you do to keep the problem from turning into a crisis? A family member with a disability is questioned to assess functioning level and suitability for a program that requires her to ride public transportation. Write two questions to help you identify her strengths.

These are examples of interview situations in which the helper might legitimately use questions. In all of them, the general rule of questioning applies: Question to obtain information or to direct the exchange into a more fruitful channel.

Although questioning may seem to be the direct path to information, sometimes this strategy can have negative effects. Long, Paradise, and Long ( 1981 ) suggest that interviewers not rely on questions to carry the interaction or interview. This is particularly problematic for beginning helpers because people generally have a tendency to ask a question whenever there is silence. Questions may also be inappropriate when the interviewer does not know what to say. Asking questions nervously may lead to more questions, which can put the interviewer in the position of focusing on thinking up more questions rather than listening to what the client is saying. Prematurely questioning to assess client strengths during the interview can also be problematic and may be viewed as rejection by the client.

An overreliance on questioning can create other problems for both interviewers and clients. For the client, too many questions can limit self-exploration, placing him or her in a dependent role in which the only responsibility is to respond to the questions. A client may also begin to feel defensive, hostile, or resentful at being interrogated. Using too many questions may place the interviewer in the role of problem solver, giving him or her most of the responsibility for generating alternatives and making decisions. In the long term, over-reliance on questioning leads to bad habits and poor helping skills. Using questions to the exclusion of other types of helping responses eventually results in the withering of these other skills (as discussed in the next section).

In conclusion, questioning is an important strategy for effective interviewing, but it is more than a strategy for obtaining information. Because of the subtleties of questioning, the matter of its appropriate uses in interviewing, and the potential problems, questioning is an art that requires practice. The skillful interviewer who uses questioning to best advantage knows when to use open and closed inquiries to gather information during the intake interview. These types of questions are discussed next.


The questions used in intake interviews can be categorized as either open or closed inquiries. Determining which one to use depends on the interviewer’s intent. If specific information is desired, closed questions are appropriate: “How old are you?” “What grade did you complete in school?” “Are you married?” If the interviewer wants the client to talk about a particular topic or elaborate on a subject that has been introduced, open questions are preferred: “What is it like being the oldest of five children?” “Could you tell me about your experiences in school?” “How would you describe your marriage?”

Closed questions  elicit facts. The answer might be yes, no, or a simple factual statement. An interview that focuses on completing a form generally consists of closed questions like those in the previous paragraph. However, the interviewer must be cautious, for a series of closed questions may cause the client to feel defensive, sensing an interrogation rather than an offer of help. One approach is to save the form until the end of the interview, review it, and complete the unanswered questions at that time. If the completion of an intake form is allowed to take precedence in the interview, the interviewer misses the opportunity to influence the client’s attitudes toward the agency, getting help, and later service provision. Perhaps equally important, information that could be acquired through listening and nonverbal messages may be missed if the interviewer is focused on writing answers on the intake form.

Open inquiries , on the other hand, are broader, allowing the expression of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This type of inquiry requires a more extensive response than a simple yes or no. The exchange of this type of information contributes to building rapport and explaining a situation or a problem. Consider the following example.

·  FATHER: I’m having trouble with the oldest boy, William. He’s in trouble again at school.

INTERVIEWER 1: How old is William?

INTERVIEWER 2: Could you tell me more about what’s going on?

Interviewer 1’s response is a closed question that asks for a simple factual answer. Interviewer 2’s response is an open inquiry that asks the father to elaborate on what he thinks is happening with William. This allows William’s father to determine what he wishes to tell the interviewer about the situation. Such an open inquiry emphasizes the importance of listening—to what the individual says first, how he or she perceives the problem, and what is considered important.

You can see how valuable open inquiries can be in intake interviewing. They also provide an opportunity for the clients to introduce topics, thereby putting them at ease by allowing discussion of their problems in their own way and time. Besides providing the information that the interviewer needs, open inquiries encourage the exploration and clarification of the client’s concerns.

Four methods are commonly used to introduce an open inquiry (Evans, Hearn, Uhlemann, & Ivey,  2008 ). Each is presented here with an example of a client statement, the interviewer’s response, and the kind of information that the client might volunteer in response to the open inquiry.

· ■ “What” questions are fact-oriented, eliciting factual data.

·  MR. CAGLE: I’m here to get food stamps. Here’s my application.

·  INTERVIEWER: Let’s review it to make sure you’ve completed it correctly. What’s your income?

·  MR. CAGLE: Well, I make minimum wage at my job, and my wife don’t make much either. We have three children and we live in a low-income apartment.

· ■ “How” inquiries are people-oriented, encouraging responses that give a personal, or subjective, view of a situation.

·  TAMISHA: My boyfriend doesn’t like my parents, and when we are all together, nobody agrees with anyone about anything.

·  INTERVIEWER: How do you feel about that?

·  TAMISHA: I hate it. Everyone is so uncomfortable. I want everyone to get along, but I dread the times we have to be together. Sometimes I feel like somebody will yell at someone else or even hit somebody.

· ■ “Could,” “could you,” or “can you” are the kinds of open inquiries that offer the client the greatest flexibility in responding. These inquiries ask for more detailed responses than the others.

·  JUAN: I hate school. My teacher doesn’t like me. She’s always on my case about stuff.

·  INTERVIEWER: Could you describe a time when she was on your case?

·  JUAN: Well, I guess. Like yesterday, she was mad at me because I was late to class . . . but I was only five minutes late. Then she called on me to answer a question. Well, I hadn’t read the stuffbecause I lost the book, so how could I answer the question? I mean, give me a break.

The fourth type of open inquiry is the “why” question, which experienced interviewers often avoid because it may cause defensiveness in clients. Examples of “why” questions that may do this are “Why did you do that?” and “Why did you think that?” Phrased this way, these responses may be perceived as judgments that the client should not have done something, felt a certain way, or had certain thoughts. Less risky “why” questions are those phrased less intrusively: “Why don’t we continue our discussion next week?” “Why don’t we brainstorm ways that you could handle that?”

In what follows, we analyze some excerpts from an intake interview that occurred at juvenile court. Tom Rozanski is the case worker who was assigned to court on that particular day. In some such cases, the juvenile is remanded to state custody that very day, that is, he or she can leave the courthouse only to go to a local or state facility. The juvenile in this case, Jonathan Douglas, has been charged with breaking and entering. He has a history of substance abuse and school truancy and is well known to the judge, who finds him guilty and remands him to state custody. The case then comes under the jurisdiction of an assessment, care, and coordination team, which takes responsibility for assessing the case, developing a plan of services, and coordinating the needed services among the agencies that are involved with the plan. Tom finds on this day that court is very crowded. Once Jonathan Douglas has been remanded to state custody, Tom asks him to follow him into the hall, and the initial intake interview occurs there. Jonathan’s parents also join them, as do two officers, who suspect that Jonathan will run if he gets the chance. They stand together in the hall for a brief interview so that Tom can gather enough information to arrange a placement that afternoon. Here’s what happens:

·  TOM: Jonathan, my name is Tom. (Shakes hands) I work for the assessment, care, and coordination team. We are responsible for assessing your case and planning services for you.

·  JONATHAN: (Limply shakes hands and looks everywhere but at Tom)

·  TOM: Jonathan, are you listening? Please look at me. Are you on any drugs right now?

·  JONATHAN: (Unintelligible response)

Tom realizes that it is futile to try to talk with Jonathan now and hopes that in a few hours he will be down from whatever drugs he has taken.

·  TOM: Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, I am Tom Rozanski, a case worker for the assessment, care, and coordination team in this county. Let me review for you what has happened. The judge found Jonathan guilty of breaking and entering. Because of his prior record, he is in state custody, and it is my job to find a place for him to stay while we evaluate his case. I need some basic information right now. Can you help me?

·  MRS. DOUGLAS: Yes, we want to help him any way we can.

·  TOM: Does Jonathan live with either of you?

·  MRS. DOUGLAS: He stays with me once in a while, but mostly he stays with his dad.

·  TOM: Mr. Douglas, could you describe his behavior when he stays with you?

·  MR. DOUGLAS: Well, I guess he goes to school sometimes. Leastways, when I leave for work, I try to get him up. I don’t know if he goes, though. Sometimes he’s here when I get home and sometimes he isn’t. He’s a big boy now, and I can’t do much with him, so I just let him be.

·  TOM: Does either of you have health insurance?


The interview lasts approximately five more minutes, and Tom obtains some key information about the family situation. He has very little time and needs specific information, so he hurriedly asks closed questions. “What is your address, Mr. Douglas?” “What grade is Jonathan in?” “Has he had a medical examination recently?” Finally, Tom has enough information to complete most of the intake form. That afternoon, he meets with Jonathan and makes another attempt to talk with him. He is relieved to find Jonathan more communicative at this meeting. Here’s an excerpt; note Tom’s use of open inquiries.

·  TOM: Jonathan, I would like to talk with you about what’s going to happen. I’d also like you to tell me your side of what’s going on.

·  JONATHAN: (Looks at Tom but makes no comment)

·  TOM: When we finish talking, Deputy Johnston will take you to Mountainview Hospital, where you will spend the next two weeks. During that time, we will talk again, you will take some tests, and you will meet with a group of young people who are your age. At the end of that time, we will develop a plan of services for you. Now, could you tell me about yourself?

·  JONATHAN: Well, I’m 15. I don’t like school and I don’t get along with either of my parents. My mother doesn’t want me since she moved, and my dad don’t care if I’m at home or not.

·  TOM: This is the first time you have been in trouble for breaking and entering. What happened?

·  JONATHAN: Well, I was with these guys and we needed money for some dope. It looked easy. I think I made a mistake.

·  TOM: Yeah. It seems so. Let’s talk about what you can do now. What kind of changes would you like to see?

·  JONATHAN: Well, I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t want to go to Red River [a juvenile correctional facility]. I can’t stay home though. They don’t care about me and I don’t care about them.

·  TOM: How would you describe your relationship with your parents?

·  JONATHAN: We don’t have no relationship. They don’t care about me. Sometimes I stay with my mom, but she’s looking for another husband and she don’t want me around. My dad, he just don’t want to be bothered.

·  TOM: Hmm. Sounds as though you’re not sure if there’s a place for you with them. What changes would you like to see in your relationship with your parents?

·  JONATHAN: I wish they . . . wish . . . I wish they liked me.

·  TOM: I see. Could you give me an example of what they would do if they liked you?

·  JONATHAN: I don’t know.

·  TOM: Can you describe a time when you did something they liked?

·  JONATHAN: My mom likes it when I come in early. My dad, he don’t care.

·  TOM: What have you done to please your mom?

·  JONATHAN: (Pauses) I cleaned up the kitchen once.

In this excerpt, Jonathan mentions his family and school in his first response. Tom picks up on the family situation and decides to explore it with Jonathan. He has talked with the parents, and although they are not living together, he senses that both are interested in Jonathan and willing to help him but don’t seem to know what to do, and they feel that Jonathan rebuffs any overtures they make. Tom is trying to discover what kind of support may be available to Jonathan from his parents and how receptive he would be to it. Tom uses open inquiries in his conversation with Jonathan to elicit the boy’s thoughts and feelings about this issue. The use of “what” questions gets at factual information, and the “how” questions are aimed at people-oriented information.

In summary, good interviewers use both open and closed inquiries, although open inquiries are preferred whenever possible. They are also careful to ask one question at a time and to avoid asking consecutive questions of a kind that might create the feel of a cross-examination. What other types of responses do interviewers use? The next section suggests other ways of responding to clients in an interview situation.


An interviewer might use various kinds of responses during the course of an intake interview. Of course, the type of response depends on the intent at that particular point. Let’s review some of the most common responses. In the following material, each response is followed by an example of its use. Joe Barnes, a recent parolee, has returned home and is having a difficult time with his wife. His parole officer, sensing that the relationship is in trouble, suggests that Joe see a helper at the Family Service Center.

· ■ Minimal responses Sometimes called  verbal following , minimal responses let the client know that you are listening. “Yes,” “I see,” “Hmm,” and nodding are minimal responses. Using them is important when getting to know the applicant.

·  JOE BARNES: I’m here because my probation officer thought it would be a good idea for me to talk with someone about things at home. Th ings haven’t been very good since I came home.

·  MIKE MATSON: I see.

· ■ Paraphrase This response is a restatement (in different words) of the main idea of what the client has just said. It is often shorter and can be a summary of the client’s statement. Paraphrasing lets the client know that the helper has absorbed what was said.

·  JOE: I just don’t know what the trouble is. I was glad to get home, and I thought my wife would be glad to have me there. But we fight about everything—even stufflike when to feed the dog. I don’t know what to do.

·  MIKE: You don’t know what’s happening between you and your wife since you got home. Sounds like it’s pretty unpleasant for both of you . . . and you’re wondering what to do about it.

· ■ Reflection Sometimes people get out of touch with their feelings, and reflection can help them become more aware. The feelings may not be named by the individual but, rather, communicated through facial expression or body language. For example, a flushed face or a clenched fist may show anger. The interviewer’s reflective response begins with an introductory phrase (“You believe,” “I gather that,” “It seems that you feel”) and then clearly and concisely summarizes the feelings the helper perceives.

·  JOE: Yes. I don’t know how we can continue to live like this. I know she is really angry about me getting in trouble with the law, but I’ve paid my dues, learned my lesson. I don’t plan to ever get in that mess again.

·  MIKE: I gather that you really do feel bad about what you did, but you would like to put the past behind you and focus on the future and how to make your marriage work.

Reflection is a response that facilitates a discussion of the client’s feelings, particularly when he or she may feel threatened by such a discussion. It is also helpful as a way to check and clarify the helper’s perception of what was said during the interview.

· ■ Clarification Clarifying helps the interviewer find out what the client means. When the interviewer is confused or unsure about what has taken place, it is more productive to stop and clarify at the time than to continue.

·  JOE: I got so angry last week because she wouldn’t listen to me and she didn’t seem to care that I was home. I was yelling, she was yelling, she threw a bowl at me, and I almost hit her.

·  MIKE: Sounds to me like you got so angry and frustrated that you were almost out of control.

· ■ Summarizing With this response, the interviewer provides a concise, accurate, and timely summing up of the client’s statements. It also helps organize the thoughts that have been expressed in the course of the interview. Summarizing is used to begin an interview when there is past material to review. It is also useful during the interview when a number of topics have been raised. Summarizing directs the client’s attention to the topics and provides direction for the next part of the interview.

From the summary, the client can choose what to discuss next. Summarizing is also useful when the client presents a number of unrelated ideas or when his or her comments are lengthy, rambling, or confused; such a response can add direction and coherence to the interview. Finally, summarizing is a way to close the interview: The interviewer goes over what has been discussed. Prioritizing next steps or topics becomes easier at this point.

·  JOE: I told her I didn’t care what she thought. I’m sure she knew what I meant even though I didn’t know what I meant. She won’t give me a chance. I am trying hard, so what does it mean to her that I have been gone? She has no idea what I have been through.

·  MIKE: Let me see if I can summarize what we’ve talked about today. Returning home has been very difficult for you and you’re confused about your relationship with your wife. She still seems angry about your trouble with the law, and the two of you just can’t seem to communicate.

·  JOE: I guess that’s about it.

·  MIKE: Let’s focus on the communication problems at our next meeting.

The following is an excerpt from an intake interview that incorporates all the responses that you have just read about: open and closed inquiries, minimal responses, paraphrases, reflection, clarification, summarization, interpretation, confrontation, and informing. Notice how and when the interviewer uses each response and the client’s reaction to it.

·  Mathisa walked into the AIDS Community Center one Wednesday evening about 8 o’clock. She had come to talk to a helper because she had just discovered that her best friend had AIDS. Her friend had told Mathisa and no one else, and Mathisa was scared. She did not know what to tell her friend, and she did not know what to do. Mathisa passes by the center on her way to school each morning, but she had barely noticed it. And now she was here.

·  A young man came up to her and introduced himself. She said “Hi” but did not want to tell him her name. In fact, she really did not want anyone to know that she was there. He asked her if she had come to talk and she nodded. He led her into a small room that had three comfortable chairs. He sat in one and pointed to one where she could sit.

The young man, Dean, started by telling Mathisa about the agency and about his job as a helper. He also talked to her about the confidentiality policies of the agency.

·  DEAN: I’m glad you’re here.

·  MATHISA: I’m not sure I’m glad to be here. I’ve never been in this place before.

·  DEAN: It’s scary to be in a place for the first time. We’re always glad to welcome newcomers and visitors. (Smiles) What’s going on?

·  MATHISA: (Pauses) I’m here for a friend.

·  DEAN: Your friend is very lucky that you could come for him or her. How did you decide to come here?

·  MATHISA: Well, this is a place I pass every morning on my way to school. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like here. And today I knew that I needed to come. Can I be sure that nobody will find out what I tell you?

·  DEAN: Yes, what you tell me stays between the two of us. Confidentiality is very important to you.

·  MATHISA: I have some information, and I don’t want anyone else to know. I don’t know what I can do.

·  DEAN: Umm . . . (Nods)

·  MATHISA: You need to know what before you can help, I guess.

·  DEAN: Could you describe the event that brought you here?

·  MATHISA: I’m just so scared and I don’t know what to do.

·  DEAN: It’s scary having information and not having any idea what to do with it. How do you think I can help you?

·  MATHISA: I don’t know for sure. But I do know that you understand AIDS and you help people with AIDS. I only know what they taught us in school. (Mathisa is obviously in distress; she is almost in tears and is choosing her words carefully.)

·  DEAN: Your quiet voice and your tears let me know that the reason you came is very upsetting to you.

·  MATHISA: (Nods)

·  DEAN: (Silence)

·  MATHISA: My best friend just told me that she has AIDS. She got tested when she was on a trip a month ago. She went to a state that does not ask your real name. She just found out yesterday. She’s really blown away by it. No one else knows—not even her parents.

·  DEAN: She told you and you don’t know what to do.

·  MATHISA: I don’t really know anything about it. I don’t want her to die, and I don’t want to die. Her boyfriend doesn’t know, and I don’t know what she’ll tell her parents. She may even run away or kill herself, but what if the tests are wrong? And seeing the really sick people here makes me think that I don’t want to live.

·  DEAN: Mathisa, I’m not sure what you said just then; you said that you didn’t want your friend to die, and then you said that you didn’t want to die.

In this interview, Dean promoted good rapport with Mathisa by providing a good physical setting. It was simple, without distractions; they sat in close proximity, with no barriers between them, in comfortable chairs. Perhaps most important, it was an environment that was private. Dean introduced himself and assured her of confidentiality so that Mathisa felt comfortable beginning to talk.

Dean used a combination of open inquiries and responses. His first open inquiry was “Can you tell me why you’re here?” This was designed to elicit a fact from Mathisa. She did not elaborate, but she did give enough information to continue the conversation. Dean also used “how” and “could” questions to encourage Mathisa to provide more information.

Dean’s responses also included a paraphrase (“Confidentiality is very important to you”) as well as reflection (“Your quiet voice and your tears let me know that the reason you came is very upsetting to you”). Both of these responses helped Mathisa understand that Dean was actively listening to her and had heard what she had said. He had also interpreted her nonverbal messages.

At the conclusion of this excerpt from the interview, Dean used clarification (“I’m not sure what you said just then . . .”) to try to sort through the information that Mathisa has given. In the remainder of the interview, Dean will continue to find out more about the problem and its implications for Mathisa and her friend. When they finish talking, Dean will summarize what has transpired and perhaps suggest where the relationship can go at that point.

Interviewing Pitfalls

Clearly, interviewing requires a great deal of skill. An effective interviewer is one who listens attentively, questions carefully, and uses other helpful responses to elicit information and promote client understanding. However, caution is necessary. The desire to be helpful and the anxiety of conducting that first interview can lead to a number of pitfalls. Four of them will be discussed here.


This arises from a desire to be helpful to the applicant by removing the pain, the discomfort, or the problem itself as soon as possible. Unfortunately, if the interviewer suggests a change, strategy, or solution before the problem has been fully identified and explored, this may address a symptom of the presenting problem rather than the actual problem. Premature problem solving may cause the client to lose confidence in the helper’s knowledge and skills or to become impatient. Also, premature problem solving undermines the client’s self-determination and can lead to false assumptions, misinterpretation of what the client says, and steering him or her in the wrong direction. In the case of mental illness, misdiagnosis can result.


In attempting to solve the problem or offer a solution, the helper may mistakenly give advice. When given hurriedly and before the problem has been explored sufficiently, advice may be seen as indicating a lack of interest or thoroughness. The client may also feel misunderstood, or he or she may superficially agree, without intending to follow through. Advice giving also tends to diminish the client’s level of responsibility, self-determination, and partnership in problem solving.


The pitfall of overuse of closed questions has been discussed elsewhere in this chapter. Remember that closed inquiries are usually directive and focused on facts; they rarely provide the opportunity for exploration. A series of closed inquires may also make the client defensive. Once this feeling is established, it is difficult to overcome.


Because silence is often awkward in everyday social situations, beginning helpers as well as seasoned professionals are sometimes uncomfortable with pauses and rush to fill them, believing that silence indicates that nothing is happening. In fact, silence does have meaning. The client may be waiting for direction from the interviewer, thinking about what has transpired so far, or just experiencing an emotion. Constant dialogue can be a false signal that something is happening. Skillful helpers learn to listen to silence.


This chapter focuses on the interviewing process, especially the intake interview that initiates the helping process. Critical to this process are the helper’s values and attitudes because these can convey to the client how the helper feels about him- or herself and how the helper feels about the client. A positive interaction is more likely to occur if the helper demonstrates warmth and caring. Attention to the physical space can also facilitate the in-take interview process. For example, talking with the client in a private area can signal that confidentiality is important. Barriers that discourage the client can be a lack of sensitivity to racial, religious, cultural, or gender issues.

Basic communication skills are important if the interviewer is to establish a dialogue with the client. effective communication includes demonstrating congruence between what is said verbally and nonverbally, engaging in active listening, and being sensitive to cultural differences. Listening is key to conducting an effective interview. This means imparting to the client that attention is being paid to what is said, which conveys respect and the desire to learn about a client. Listening also includes responsive listening and the active listening described earlier. Questioning is also a skill and an art. Used appropriately, questioning is an effective way of helping people talk about themselves without asking direct, closed questions.

Good interviewers not only develop communication skills, they also learn to avoid pitfalls, including premature problem solving and giving advice. Helpers are often tempted to identify the problem too quickly or to seek an immediate solution. Both of these responses may focus more on the helper than the client. Another pitfall is an overreliance on closed questions, which discourage clients from talking. The final barrier is rushing to fill silence rather than giving clients time to assume responsibility for part of the dialogue. These barriers can be replaced with other communication skills that encourage client participation.


Chapter Four  introduces you to the knowledge necessary for effective (and efficient) intake. You can use the following key terms and review questions to reinforce the knowledge gained in this chapter.


Active listening

Attending behavior

Closed questions

Effective communication skills

Open inquiries


Verbal following



What attitudes and characteristics facilitate the development of a helping relationship?


Write a dialogue representing the beginning of an intake interview to illustrate desirable attitudes and characteristics of the helper.


Draw a floor plan for an office setting that facilitates relationship building.


Discuss the problems that are created by stereotypes based on gender, race, age, and sexual orientation.


Write general guidelines for essential communication skills in interviewing.


Discuss the importance of listening in the intake interview.


What is attending behavior (active listening)?


What are the five listening behaviors represented by the acronym SOLER?


Why are listening and questioning both complex skills and arts?


State the advantages and disadvantages of questioning.


Describe the five situations in which questioning is appropriate.


Distinguish between closed and open inquiries.


What are the four commonly used methods of introducing an open inquiry?


Name four pitfalls of interviewing and tell how each may be avoided.



Do you think that you will be able to conduct a good interview? What skills will you need to strengthen your competence as an interviewer?


What are the advantages and disadvantages of using computers during an interview? Speculate about how interviewing will change if computers are used in the process.


Discuss the kinds of activities that might help you practice your listening skills.


Do you believe that certain communication skills are essential to effective interviewing? If your answer is no, why not? If yes, what are they, and why are they important?


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Atkinson, D. R., & Hackett, G. (2004). Counseling diverse populations. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Atkinson, D. R., Morten, G., & Sue, D. W. (2004). Counseling American minorities: A Cross cultural perspective (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Brammer, L. M., & MacDonald, G. (2003). The helping relationship. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Capuzzi, D., & Gross, D. G. (2009). Introduction to the counseling profession (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Carkhuff, R. R. (1969). Helping and human relations: A primer for lay and professional helpers. Vol 1: Selection and training. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Combs, A. W. (1969). Florida studies in the helping professions. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Egan, G. (2010). The skilled helper (9th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Epstein, L. (1985). Talking and listening: A guide to the helping interview. St Louis: Times Mirror/Mosby.

Evans, D. R., Hearn, M. T., Uhlemann, M. R., & Ivey, A. E. (2008). Essential interviewing: A programmed approach to effective communication. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Gil, R. M., & Vasquez, C. I. (1996). The Maria paradox: How Latinas can merge Old World traditions with New World self-esteem. New York: Putnam.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing and counseling: Facilitating client development in a multicultural society (7th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Long, L., Paradise, L. V., & Long, T. J. (1981). Questioning: Skills for the helping process. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Sielski, L. M. (1979). Understanding body language. Personnel and Guidance, 57(5), 238–242.

Slattery, J. M. (2004). Counseling diverse clients. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse. Boston, MA: John Wiley.

Woodside, M., & McClam, T. (2009). Introduction to human services (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Yuker, H. E., (1994). Variables that influence attitudes toward people with disabilities: Conclusions from the data. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 9, 3–22.

CHAPTER FIVE Interviewing Skills

The skills that are necessary for effective (and efficient) intake are the focus of Chapter Five. In addition, a section of this chapter will introduce you to concepts that will help you talk with a particular client group—children.

Exercise 1: Attitudes and Characteristics of Interviewers

During an interview, the interviewer demonstrates attitudes of the self and other. One way to learn about these attitudes and characteristics is to watch others conduct interviews.


Select two television programs that include interviews; for example, PBS NewsHour, the Sunday morning network news shows, and talk shows such as Larry King Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Watch interview segments that last approximately five minutes.


Describe the following:

Show: ______________                 Date: ____________________________

Setting: ________________________________________________________________________

Interviewee(s): _________________________________________________________________

Interviewers: ___________________________________________________________________

Show: ______________                 Date: ______________________________

Setting: ______________________________________________________________

Interviewee(s): ________________________________________________________

Interviewers: ___________________________________________________________________


Now compare the two interview styles you observed in terms of greetings, questioning, control, and setting.


What did you like or dislike about each interview?

Exercise 2: When I Was the Stranger

The purpose of this exercise is to help you identify what it is like to be different or to be a stranger in a specific environment. Answering the following questions will help you identify and explore that experience. This will help you understand how a client may feel on a first visit to an agency.


Describe a time when you felt you were “different,” a stranger or an outcast.


How did you react in this situation? How did you feel?


What did you think others were communicating to you?


What did you communicate to them?

Exercise 3: Developing Cultural Sensitivities

Review the section on cultural sensitivity in  Chapter Four .


Several potential client groups are discussed. With which one would you be least comfortable?


Describe a scenario where you are conducting an intake interview with a client in this particular client group.


Identify three reasons that you might have difficulty interviewing this client.


Put yourself in the client’s place and describe the client’s thoughts prior to coming in for the interview.


Answer the following questions about your description of the client’s point of view.

· ■What was the experience of writing as if you were the client like for you?

· ■What have you learned from this experience about your own cultural sensitivity?

Exercise 4: Using Language the Client Understands

The following quote is a helper’s explanation of the services available and the purpose of the interview.


Read the following remarks at the beginning of an intake interview where the helper summarizes program services:

· I am glad that you are here today. I want to tell you about our services that we may be able to offer you. First is the Bridges program. It provides a case worker, a helper, and vouchers, and you become part of our Helpers program. If you are able to work through Phase One: Learning and Developing Skills, then you will be eligible for Phase Two. In Phase Two, we will develop your case in multiple ways so that you can be an applicant for Phase Three. Now, Phase Three is for your whole family except for the members who do not qualify and fall into our nonstandard category. We have criteria for each of these phases. Now that you have a summary of our services, I am going to ask you some questions to see if you qualify for services.


Re-read the helper’s statement. It is not very clear, is it? Review the statement and circle all of the phases that you believe might have been unclear to the client. For each item circled, suggest an alternative statement that presents the information about the agency and its services more clearly.

Exercise 5: Active Listening

Using active listening or attending behavior with a client is one way to communicate to the client that he or she is important. Using various gestures and nonverbal signals, the helper allows the client to choose the path of the conversation while paying attention to the message the client is conveying.


Select a friend who is willing to help you.


Ask the friend to talk to you about an event, situation, or problem he or she does not mind sharing. Find a quiet spot so that the two of you are not interrupted.


Use the SOLER behaviors presented in your text as you listen to your friend talk.


After you have practiced your active listening, describe to your friend what it was like to listen using this technique. Then ask your friend to share his or her experience.

Your experiences:

Your friend’s experiences:

Exercise 6: Questioning

Chapter Four  describes five situations when questions are appropriate and relevant.


Review the five situations.


Practice your questioning skills by formulating five appropriate questions for each of the following case examples.


Brigitta is an angry, frustrated client who has been living on her own with her two young sons in community housing for over a year. She believes the feelings she is experiencing are a reaction to her mother constantly calling her, asking her to come by, and wanting her to account for her time. She decides to see a human service professional because she is at the end of her rope. As the helper explores this situation with Brigitta, however, she discovers that Brigitta’s father died six months ago. Her mother is lonely and mourning, and Brigitta, who moved out three months before he died, feels guilty not only about moving out but also about not returning home when her mother needs her.

·  To begin:

·  To obtain information:

·  To focus:

·  To clarify:

·  To identify client strengths:


Rena has always had a problem with obesity. She has had diabetes since she was 11 and has fought her overweight condition and high blood pressure since she was a teenager. She starts each new diet with great enthusiasm, but she soon returns to her old eating habits. Rena is beginning a new diet developed by a leading movie star, and she has great hopes. She tries not to remember the 400 pounds she has lost and regained in the past 10 years.

·  To begin:

·  To obtain information:

·  To focus:

·  To clarify:

·  To identify client strengths:


Jim joined a smoking cessation group at the medical center a month ago. As all participants do initially, Jim told the group about his tobacco habit and stated that his wife was adamant that he quit. He and his wife became parents for the first time two months ago, and she fears the effects of smoke on the baby. It was only last night, though, that Jim shared with the group his worries about beginning a topical precancerous treatment on his face and about his baby’s lack of response to stimuli.

·  To begin:

·  To obtain information:

·  To focus:

·  To clarify:

·  To identify client strengths:

Exercise 7: Responding

After reading the following examples, write three different responses: a paraphrase, a clarification, and an open-ended question.

Helping Situation 1

I can’t seem to keep my mind on my work these days. I forget what I am doing, I find myself staring out the window, my kids keep yelling at me, I can’t get my work completed. I know that my boss is not pleased with me. I’m not pleased with myself. Everyone is giving me a hard time. I don’t sleep very well. I am a mess.

·  Paraphrase:

·  Clarification:

·  Open-Ended Question:

Helping Situation 2

My momma told me that I had to come to see you. My teacher found out that I was coming, and she told me to tell you what I knew about my dad. I am not sure what to say. My daddy loves me. He says that he loves me special.

·  Paraphrase:

·  Clarification:

·  Open-Ended Question:

Helping Situation 3

I am not sure what the problem is (pause) . . . I just don’t know. . . .

·  Paraphrase:

·  Clarification:

·  Open-Ended Question:

Helping Situation 4

Mom and dad are not doing too well. Mom cannot dress herself anymore, and she needs help to prepare her food. She cannot remember what day it is, forgets to take her medicines, and does not know many of her friends. Dad is taking care of her as best as he can, but his abilities are limited, too. He is worn out from caring for her, and he does not have time to do anything for himself. We are crazy from worry.

·  Paraphrase:

·  Clarification:

·  Open-Ended Question:

In More Depth: Talking With Children

There are multiple ways that helpers provide services to children in need either by supporting families who have children with special needs or by working directly with children. Children begin the helping process with an intake interview, much the same way that adults do. Many helpers indicate that, although the focus of service is the child, they gather information from other sources such as parents, school officials, and written case records. Ultimately, most helpers also want to hear from the child. Children have particular physical, cognitive, and social developmental characteristics; because they are a unique population, special knowledge, skills, and values are required of the helper to conduct this first interview.

This section provides information on the characteristics of children between ages 6 and 12, what psychologists label middle childhood, and presents guidelines for talking with these children, especially for the first time in the intake interview. This age range is a unique time in a child’s life: “Keep in mind that the school child’s head is not where yours is. It’s not just a matter of physical growth—it’s perhaps more a matter of intellectual change—the fact their intellectual feet are still not firmly grounded. Too, their heads may be closer to the clouds. And perhaps that’s why they see magic more clearly than we adults do” (LeFrancois,  2001 , p. 374).

Let’s look at the physical, cognitive, and social development for children in middle childhood, as well as the problems or challenges they may experience.

Physical Growth

There are physical measures important to note in children in middle childhood. A marked growth spurt occurs as girls, on average, gain more weight and height. Both girls and boys decrease their fatty mass as their bone and muscle develop; this trend is consistent with good nutrition. Children also continue to develop their fine and gross motor skills. The increase in physical abilities allows them to expand their interest in creative efforts and sports requiring coordination and physical strength. Obesity emerges as a problem for many children this age due to overeating (Lamerez, Kuepper, & Bruning,  2005 ), poor nutrition, lack of physical activity (Weiten, Lloyd, Dunn, & Hammer,  2009 ), cultural or psychological factors, such as using food as a reward or a punishment, and genetic factors (Malina & Bouchard,  1991 ). Other physical problems are sensory-related, such as visual or hearing impairments and difficulties linked to such diseases as muscular dystrophy and diabetes. Children are also reaching puberty at younger ages. This change in physical maturation is problematic because cognitive and social development remain the same (Shaffer & Kipp,  2010 ).

Cognitive Development

Two important concepts help explain cognitive development in middle childhood: the use of concrete operations and intelligence. Children who are able to think concretely demonstrate skills such as engaging in conversations, performing reversible thinking, using rules of logic, and understanding concepts based upon concrete objects of their past experiences (Piaget,  1960 ). Children have conversations; they engage in dialogue, listen, and respond appropriately. They take turns in conversation and demonstrate an interest in others. The following conversation between two 7-year-olds during school playtime illustrates this:

SUZIE: Can I have your hammer?

JORGE: I am using it.

SUZIE: What are you making?

JORGE: A puzzle with this wood.

SUZIE: Okay. But I want the hammer.

JORGE: Not now. I am busy.

Children also perform reversible thinking; this means that they may have an idea or understanding and then change that understanding. The following conversation illustrates the change of thinking when Paula, age 9, discusses the subject of ghosts with her mom. Note that her mother uses a concrete illustration of a ghost, instead of an abstract idea.

PAULA: Are you scared during Halloween? I mean, if I am a ghost.

MOM: Is there something that makes you feel scared?

PAULA: Ms. Brewer at school says that after Halloween all of the ghosts will disappear.

MOM: Paula, let me show you what she means. See this ghost that I made for the door? After tonight I will take it down and put it away. Here, let me show you. (Mom takes the ghost down, puts it away, and shuts the closet where she puts it.)

PAULA: But I think that I will disappear.

MOM: Here, let’s practice putting on your costume and then taking it off and putting it away. [They do this.] There, now you know that disappearing ghosts means putting away decorations and costumes.

PAULA: Can I make the kitty disappear?

MOM: Well, the kitty can go outside and you will not be able to see her. But we still have to take care of her. She is still there.

Because children are beginning to use logic, they can use it to make sense of their world. They also have the ability to use rules of logic to construct knowledge. In the conversation above, Paula is learning about the concept of disappear. Because it is an abstract concept, her mom uses concrete examples to explain what the concept disappear means, as it relates to her “being a ghost” for Halloween. Paula uses a rule of logic to extend the concept of disappear to the kitty. In this example, her mother must help Paula understand that the rules of logic for the ghost disappearing do not apply to the kitty.

MOM: Paula, let the kitty out. Now has the kitty disappeared?

PAULA: I know where she is. When she goes out, she has a favorite place to sleep in the sun.

MOM: Why don’t you check and see if the kitty is there? (Paula checks.)

PAULA: Yup, she’s there.

MOM: Has she disappeared?

PAULA: Nope. I can’t see her from the window, but I know where she is.

Children from 6 to 12 years of age recall information from the past. They display long-term memory as they ride a bicycle, play video games, and make baskets at the free-throw line during a basketball game. As children tell stories about themselves or recall specific actions from the past, they show their autobiographical memory (Brouillet & Lepine,  2005 ).

Intelligence provides another way professionals consider children’s cognitive abilities. One theory is that intelligence is a quality or a measure of functioning and is based upon characteristics or traits. General intelligence focuses abilities that are innate within the individual and include solving problems, reasoning, and analyzing. Specific intelligence includes abilities such as knowledge of vocabulary, general information, and arithmetic skills (Engle, Tuholski, Laughlin, & Conway,  1999 ). Another way of viewing intelligence is by seeing how individuals adapt to the world. This approach, called successful intelligence, considers the context of intelligence and the control of the environment. This means that children choose the environments in which they function and then change them (Sternberg,  2008 ). Children demonstrate successful intelligence as they choose their friends, change their social interactions from setting to setting, and decide what they do in their spare time.

Understanding a child’s intelligence may assist a helper prepare for an initial contact with a child. A child’s written case file may contain scores from more traditional intelligence tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). Alternative information about successful intelligence or multiple intelligence may be gained during the initial interview and may help the helping professional choose ways in which to communicate and establish rapport. Often professionals use tests to determine the intelligence of children. A later chapter addresses the use of tests to measure specific traits. There is also a caution about how to use test results in interpreting what we know about clients. This caution applies equally to the children helpers test.

Social Development

Areas of social cognition, self-esteem, and relationships represent the social development of children in middle childhood. From the age of 6 until 12, children change how they view themselves in relation to others. Children begin to see that others have a point of view, but also believe others would change to theirs if they knew what it was. Children then change to a self-reflective point of view where they acknowledge both their own and others’ points of view. Finally, they adopt a mutual point of view (Feldman,  2010 ). Once they understand the points of view of others, they may be willing to consider differences, express empathy, and facilitate self-change. The mutual point of view is just beginning to develop during the latter stages of middle childhood.

Understanding the self-esteem of children provides helpers with information about children and how they feel about their competencies and self-worth. Children usually have a general sense of their overall worth. Then they judge themselves according to specific competencies, such as their scholastic ability, athletic competence, social acceptance, behavioral conduct, and physical appearance (Feldman,  2010 ). Judgments about self-worth are founded on how children would like to be and how they believe others view them. The opinions of parents, influential adults, and friends are most important. Physical appearance is often one of the most important areas. Self-worth is linked to self-concept, emotion and mood, and motivation. A positive sense of self-worth is related to a good self-concept, happiness, and self-efficacy. A negative sense of self-worth is related to low self-concept, unhappiness, and depression.

Friendships become increasingly important during middle childhood, especially in the preteen years. Best friends and a circle of friends contribute to the social development of the child. Five categories of social status describe the different experiences children have with friendships (Gottman,  1977 ). The “sociometric stars” are liked by a majority of their peers. The “mixers” interact often with their peers; some are well-liked and some are not. The “teacher negatives” experience conflicts with their teachers; some are liked and some are not. The “tuned out” are less involved with peers and ignored. The “sociometric rejectees” are not liked very much. If a child is rejected by peers, reactions include anger, retaliation, and aggression. Children without friends suffer from depression, bullying, and loneliness (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,  2003 ).

Victimization of children is a serious problem that affects a child’s growth and development. There are several types of victimization (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman,  1994 ). Pandemic victimization describes the occasional suffering related to high-profile kidnapping or violent crime. Acute victimization includes physical abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment, medical neglect, and sexual abuse, and it is fairly prevalent in our society (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,  2003 ). There are physical and psychological consequences of acute victimization, such as emotional withdrawal, aggressiveness, truancy, delinquency, poor school achievement, and poor social relationships.

Before we introduce ideas about how to talk with children in middle childhood, let’s explore information about child development that might be helpful to you.

Exercise 8: James and Samantha


List the facts that you believe are most relevant to you as you conduct an intake interview with children ages 6 to 12.

· Physical Development:

· Cognitive Development:

· Social Development:


Read the following summary about James and Samantha. You also read about James and Samantha in Chapter Three .

James and Samantha

James is 10 years old and his sister, Samantha, is 8. Both attend Boone Elementary School and were living with their aunt and uncle; their parents are in prison. In the middle of the school year, the aunt told the children that they were going to move that evening. The children picked up their clothes and a few toys and moved into a shelter. They didn’t know that this was a shelter for women and children who were being abused. The children were brokenhearted to leave their school. They had good friends there. Samantha says that she understands why she needs to go to another school, but James is angry that he has to transfer. Finally, the staff at the shelter tried to work out transportation back to the school, but school officials told the children’s aunt that they could not transfer back into the old district. The school specialist has referred James and Samantha to you.


Review the child development facts that you listed in Question 1. How would each of those facts help you interview James and Samantha? Add any facts that you did not list for Question 1.

· Physical Development:

· Cognitive Development:

· Social Development:

Now that you have studied child development for children in middle childhood, let’s look at guidelines for talking with children in this stage of development.

Guidelines for the Intake Interview

Helpers who are beginning their work with young clients often need to shift their thinking from “working with clients” to “working with children.” Many times when a professional uses the term “client,” an adult male or female comes to mind. Because of their age and lack of experience, working with children requires special care and consideration. There is an immediate power differential because young children are taught to have respect for adults, especially for those in authority. Children are involved in a developmental process; successful helpers consider where the child is in the developmental framework and begin the helping process with the child’s ability and level of development in mind.

Getting Ready for the Intake Interview

In some ways, beginning the intake interview occurs before the child comes to the office or before the helper visits the child. The helper prepares the physical space to make the child comfortable. This preparation also helps the helper establish rapport. Here are some guidelines to follow when preparing the room in which the intake interview will take place (Henderson & Thompson,  2011 ):

· ■ Provide a relaxed atmosphere. This means use comfortable chairs and tables that are child-size and child-friendly. Set the furniture so the child can be face-to-face with you and not have to look up.

· ■ Provide an atmosphere that is bright and not too cluttered. Children love bright colors and decorations with animals, dolls, and animated characters with which they are familiar.

· ■ Establish a spacious atmosphere. Leave open space in the room. Do not put a desk or table between you and the child.

· ■ Provide a barrier that the child can use to create a safe distance from you if needed. This means that the child can choose where to put the chair, or can hold a pillow or a blanket, or can move a table between you and him or her.

· ■ Have toys, drawing material, desk, and dolls that might help facilitate conversation.

You will use these materials to involve the child in activities. Usually, helpers gain information as the child draws, paints, role plays, or the like. Even preteens may want to use art or music to talk about their situations rather than just engage in conversation. Also, games and other materials indicate to children that your space is a good place for them.

These suggestions are still relevant if the helper is meeting the child or the family at the home. Sometimes the helper can talk with the family about arranging a special room for the meeting, indicating that a place where the child would be comfortable is optimal.

The child may be nervous at the first interview. At the very least, children may have questions about the helping process and what is expected of them. Children often have questions that differ from those of adults. Many times children do not have a choice about receiving services. Even though the helper, and perhaps the parents, knows that the child will benefit from services, the child does not understand this. Here are some questions the child may have (Henderson & Thompson,  2011 ):

What is helping?

Why do I have to do this?

What’s wrong with me?

Will this hurt? Will I get a shot? Medicine?

Do I have to go?

Do I have to do this just once?

What do I do?

These questions indicate fear of a new situation, talking to a stranger, and answering questions and not understanding the helping process and the need for it. You must be able to answer these questions using language that children can understand. Here are some ways to approach these questions:

CHILD: What is helping?

HELPER: I am a professional helper. My job is to help you. I am going to . . .

CHILD: Why do I have to do this?

HELPER: People who care about you think I could help you.

CHILD: What is wrong with me?

HELPER: I don’t think anything is wrong. My work is to get others to help you.

CHILD: Will this hurt? Will I get a shot? Medicine?

HELPER: I will not hurt you. Today we are going to talk and play. I want to know you better.

CHILD: Do I have to go?

HELPER: I am not sure where you will go. If you have to go anywhere, someone you know will go with you.

CHILD: Do I have to do this just once?

HELPER: You and I will see each other today. Then we will decide what else we need to do.

CHILD: What do I do?

HELPER: We can start by drawing this picture. Can you draw your family and your house?

The Focus of the Interview

As discussed earlier, any information that you can learn about the child before the initial interview helps you prepare. Two factors guide your initial interview with the child: the goal of your interview and the information you need to obtain. For example, if you are working with a child who has a chronic illness, you may need to engage the child to establish a relationship, determine how the child is feeling physically, what the child knows about his or her medical situation, and what social and emotional effects the illness has on the child. Of course, other sources of information may include parents and medical staff. Another child may be eligible to receive services because he or she is living in foster care while his or her parents are incarcerated. Interviewing this child for the first time, the helper may focus on the emotional status of the child, his or her comfort with the foster care family, and knowledge of the child’s parents’ situation. Additional sources of information may be the department of human services; the public schools, if appropriate; information about the foster parents; and the status of parents in the criminal justice system. Regardless of the situation, the focus of the initial interview is establishing rapport with the child, exploring what the child currently understands about the situation, understanding the strengths of the child, understanding the fears and concerns of the child, and explaining the helping process.

Exercise 9: The Case of Tannie and Lindie

The following case lets you apply the concepts to conduct an intake interview with children in middle childhood.

I received a call from Inez Tucker, the principal of the local elementary school in our county. She and I had worked together before on several cases involving students for whom home life is particularly difficult. Since the implementation of “No Child Left Behind,” each school in the school district targets students who are in danger of failing and tries to address barriers to their academic success. Often, these barriers involve home and neighborhood factors, as well as individual social and emotional problems. Inez asked if she could meet me for lunch, explaining that she had a complicated case that would take about 30 minutes to explain and discuss.

I met Inez at our appointed time at a small café downtown. The owner saved us a corner table in the back where we could talk without interruption and without being overheard. Confidentiality is important for both of us. Inez came with only a few notes and started by explaining how difficult this case was for her.

“Two weeks into the school term, a young mother brought her two children, Tannie and Lindie, to school. None of them spoke English. Speaking what we took for a South American Indian dialect, the mother tried to communicate. Three teachers in our school speak fluent Spanish, and two are native speakers. None of them spoke the indigenous dialect. After considerable effort on the part of several of us, including the three Spanish-speaking teachers, to talk with the children and the mother, I asked a kitchen aide to join the conversation. He speaks a mixture of Indian dialect and Spanish. The teacher also asked the children to join the conversation. Although the aide could not translate exactly what their mother and the children said, he could help us understand some of the conversation.”

Inez took out her notes and read to me the following facts that she believes she has learned about this situation:

· ■ The children, both girls, are 9 and 10 years of age.

· ■ The mother and the girls live three blocks from the school.

· ■ The mother has no job.

· ■ The mother can neither read nor write.

· ■ The children can neither read nor write.

· ■ The family has no permanent records.

· ■ The children have never attended school.

Inez continued her story: “Since the girls have been coming to school, they have been receiving special tutoring. They go to class in the morning, but after an hour’s time, they begin to walk around the classroom. The teacher walks them down to my office. I have begun to let them play with toys in my office until the resource teacher comes to get them. She is working to teach them the alphabet, and she is teaching them words that might be useful to them. They have been in school five weeks now and they have come to school about half of that time. They really don’t understand the language and they don’t understand the culture of the school.

“I know that there are lots of needs, both for the family and for the girls. But right now I just want to hear from them about how they are doing. I would love to have more information about them, so I can understand what they are going through, how they like school, and what we can do for them.”

Inez then asked me if I would interview them. I would begin my work with an intake interview.

I scheduled a time to talk with the girls after gaining the mother’s permission to do so. I decided to interview both of them together. I thought that they would be more comfortable meeting with me together. To prepare, I followed three steps: considering current knowledge of the children; considering knowledge of developmental issues; considering use of an interpreter.

Preparing for the Interview

Review the discussion on attitudes and characteristics of interviewers in  Chapter Four  and the guidelines for interviewing children in this chapter. With this information in mind, create a plan for the interview, using the following questions to guide your thinking:


Based upon what Inez has told you about the case and what she wishes to know about the girls, what are your goals for this interview with Tannie and Lindie?


How will you demonstrate that you are sensitive to Tannie and Lindie’s culture?


How do you think that Tannie and Lindie feel about the upcoming meeting with you?


Describe the ideal setting for the interview.


What climate would you like to establish? How will you do so?


How will you begin the interview or the greeting?


What activities or play will you use in your time with Tannie and Lindie? How does your approach help you meet the goals that you established in Question 1?

Working with an Interpreter

As you begin to prepare for the interview with Tannie and Lindie, you realize that you will need an interpreter. The likely candidate is the aide. Because you already speak fluent Spanish and are fairly fluent in French, you have never needed an interpreter. You find an article about interpreters in a professional journal and read it to see if you can discover any guidelines that might help you plan and conduct this interview.

Go to the website that accompanies this book: . Read the article “Working with Sign Language Interpreters in Human Service Settings.” This article will help you understand the role of interpreters. Answer the following questions.


What is the role of an interpreter?


What does the interpreter not do?


You will need to ask the custodian if he would be willing to be an interpreter for this intake interview. What will you tell him?


Review the plans that you made for the intake interview with Tannie and Lindie. How does having an interpreter present change those plans?


As you reflect on what you have read and practiced in  Chapters Four  and  Five , think about your responses to the following questions:


When you think about conducting an interview, what do you believe are the most important attitudes and characteristics?


How will you balance the need to gather information about the client with the need to listen carefully?


What is different about interviewing children?


Explain how you might use an interpreter to interview a client. Describe your role.


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