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Section 11: Probes and prompts

Whilst it is very important for community art counsellors to respond empathically to their group members, sometimes when group members do not reveal themselves, it is necessary for us to encourage or prompt them to explore problem situations. Therefore, the ability to use probes and prompts is another important skill.

Prompts and probes are verbal tactics for helping the group members talk about themselves and define their problems more concretely and specifically. Prompts and probes can therefore be used in all stages of the helping process. They can also take different forms.


  1. Statements that encourage group members to talk and clarify

Some people think that all prompts and probes are questions, but this is not necessarily the case. Too many questions give the client the feeling they are under an inquisition. Statements and requests can be used to help clients talk and clarify issues.

Example: I realise now that your mother-in-law makes you very angry, but I’m still not sure what it is that she does that makes you angry.  

  1. Questions that help the client talk more freely and concretely

Statements (like the one above in the example) can also be put into questions, for example: instead of saying, “I imagine that you had a lot of feelings bouncing inside your head last week”, the question would be: “What kind of feelings did you have bouncing around in your head last week?”

The following guidelines can be used when asking questions as a probe or prompt:

First, when group members are asked too many questions it could interfere with the quality of the working relationship.

Second, remember that the goal of questioning is to help the client get clear information about their problem situation. Therefore all questions must be purposeful rather than curiosity based.

  1. The “accent”

The accent is a one or two word statement that focuses or brings attention to the group member’s previous response. The accent encourages group members to say more fully what they are only half-saying.


Client – “My son and I have a fairly good relationship now, even though I’m not entirely satisfied.”

Community Art Counsellor – “Not entirely satisfied?”

Group member – “Well, I should probably say dissatisfied because…”



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