A Few Tips for “Withholding Clients”

Mar 06, 2017

“. . . This world, the palpable thought of God. . . .”

Jack Kerouac
from Desolation Angels

A Few Tips for “Withholding Clients”

TISA Description of the Problem: Sometimes clients may be on the edge of sharing something important, but still feel hesitant. This can be particularly problematic in correctional settings where there may be peer pressure not to share bits of information. Ennu Surender, M.D., who is a correctional psychiatrist has two nice techniques that can be helpful in such situations.

Tip: Near the end of an interview, if I feel that an inmate is withholding information, I have found the following two questions to be of use. The first one is direct, and it is that “directness” that inmates sometimes appreciate. The second technique provides a second chance for the inmate to provide new information, without insinuating any implication that information was withheld:

1) “Is there any information you are not supposed to tell me?”

2) “Did I ask you any questions that you didn’t have a chance to answer completely?”

TISA Follow-up: Both of these excellent tips have immediate application in situations outside of correctional work as well, such as with family members regarding family secrets and peers in school cliques.

The directness of the first question also reminds me of another technique provided by a correctional specialist who asks, when interviewing an inmate whom she is suspicious is malingering suicidal intent to escape a bad situation in his or her cell block, “I need you to be truthful with me. Is there anything going on back in your cell block that you are trying to get away from by pretending to be suicidal, like someone threatening you, because I might be able to help.”

Tip #27 from May 2002 also addresses the issue of malingered suicidal
intent in correctional settings for the interested reader.

Tip provided by:

Ennu Surender, M.D.
Correctional psychiatrist
Memphis, Tennessee

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Of preventing suicide and teaching clinical interviewing