Transforming a Gremlin: the “I don’t know” Response from Adolescents

Feb 13, 2017

Quote of the Month

“In solitude it is easier for thoughts to leave themselves alone.”

Alan Watts
From Cloud Hidden,Whereabouts Unknown

Transforming a Gremlin: the “I don’t know” Response from Adolescents

TISA Description of the Problem: Adolescents frequently feel coerced into assessments and, as they sit in our offices, they are often not “happy campers.” Much of their fear is that we will view them as the sole cause of any problems, perhaps siding with parents and principals. The result is sometimes a completely appropriate tendency to protect oneself by answering as tersely as possible, often illustrated by the repetition of the classic “I don’t know” response. A long string of such “I don’t knows” will often lead to the creation of a therapist who is now also not a “happy camper.” With two such unhappy campers in the room, Bonnie J. Ramsey, M.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine has a very useful suggestion for proactively undercutting such a roadblock:

Tip: After establishing rapport with simple chit-chat early on, if I begin to feel resistance, I will tell the client, “I may sometimes ask tough questions that you may not want to answer. Instead of doing what some adolescents do, which is to simply say, “I don’t know”, just tell me that you don’t feel like answering that question now. That will help a lot because in just talking with you briefly, it is obvious to me that you are too smart to not know the answers, and I’d prefer you just be honest, for I’m going to try to be honest with you too.”

TISA Follow-up: Thanks to Bonnie for an excellent tip. In closing, if you have any thoughts about the above Tip of the Month or other ideas on how to handle this potentially awkward impasse, please feel free to e-mail us here at TISA. And once again, please send on any good interviewing tips that you’ve developed over the years, so that they might be chosen as a future Tip of the Month. Keep in mind that the tips can be short or long, it makes no difference.

Tip provided by:

Bonnie J. Ramsey, M.D.
University of South Carolina School of Medicine

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