Clinical Interviewing Techniques

Interviews are important tools for gathering needed information.
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Physicians and psychologists both make use of clinical interviews to discover more about their patients. For a physician, the interview might be centered on health-related symptoms, location and severity of pain, and time of onset. For a psychologist, the interview could cover an array of subjects, from childhood experiences to social identification. Both have the goal of highlighting the source of some underlying problem, trigger or issue so they can create a solution.

Opening the Interview

    The beginning of a clinical interview can be awkward. Likely neither one of you knows each other. The patient or client may be shy or uncomfortable sharing personal information with a stranger. For these reasons, Saint Joseph's University recommends starting an interview with open-ended questions. These are questions that invite conversation and interchange, such as "what brings you here today" or "tell me what was happening when you started to feel unwell." Answers may be short initially as the ice melts. If you're faced with stilted answers, try encouraging more exchange by simply saying, "tell me more."

Closed-Ended Questions

    There is also a place for closed-ended, or structured, questions. These are questions that have blunt, often "forced-choice," answers such as "yes/no" or "date/time." While these types of questions don't invite relaxed conversation, they are good for moving an interview along if it stalls at an abrupt answer to an open-ended question. They also provide very specific answers, helping the physician or psychologist create a more complete picture of the client and her situation.

Importance of Silence

    Practitioners also make use of deliberate silences to prompt further exchange. Used wisely, silence can cause a patient to say more than she really meant to say because silence often makes people uncomfortable. To cover the discomfort, and to fill the aural void, they continue speaking, possibly revealing more about their situations than they had intended. Watching for reactions by the subject suggesting that this tactic is working is crucial. If it isn't working, change tactics.

Remaining Objective

    Both the interviewer and the subject may approach the interview with preconceived ideas about each other and the diagnosis of the problem in question. It takes a skilled interviewer to shut off biases and be an objective, neutral listener, says the Food and Agriculture Organization. It's also important to create an inviting, relaxed atmosphere for the patient. Interviews can be intimidating. Disarm your patient with friendliness and professionalism. Avoid using technical language and instead choose words that are informal and familiar to your audience.

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