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circular questions

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631170488.1995.x


A technical ploy advocated by Selvini Palazzoli et al. (1980), circular questions, or ‘mind-reading questions’ following Haley (1963), are used positively to connote the homeostatic tendency of the family system. It consists in addressing oneself directly to a family member by asking him/her to think for another person as though this were a natural thing to do. For example: ‘Mrs X, what does your husband think of your son's taste in music?’. (and not: ‘What do you think your husband thinks of your son's taste in music?’). The structuralist perspective of Salvador Minuchin is opposed to this systematic perspective, seeking rather to work towards a delimitation of individual boundaries. ‘Family members should speak for themselves. They should tell their own story. Family members should not tell what other members think or feel … Two members should not discuss a third who is present without his participation’ (Minuchin, 1979, p. 16.) It is never right to induce instabilities in a patient and it is therefore best to avoid putting mind-reading questions to subjects suffering from mental automatism. On the other hand, using this technique to bring out the state of mental undifferentiation of those in the patient's close circle may be very effective. (See also data-gathering; triadic questioning .) g.g.m. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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