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Section 6
Using Probe Techniques with Low Self-Esteem and Depression

Question 6 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we continued our discussion on effective response styles by focusing on the technique of clouding the critic. Our discussion included three different methods of clouding. These three methods are agreeing in part, agreeing in probability, and agreeing in principle. 

In this section, we will finish our discussion of effective response styles by discussing probing. We will discuss key words, a list of don’ts and techniques for probing the nagger. I find these three cognitive behavior therapy techniques to be especially beneficial when working with a teen or adult client who has been abused, with self-esteem issues. 

Because much criticism is vague, probing is a way for clients like Maria to verify whether or not a particular criticism is meant to be constructive. I stated to Maria, "Probing, in addition to verifying any possible constructive intent behind the criticism, is also a productive way to begin to assert yourself to a critic."  In previous meetings with Maria, I found that much of the criticism she endured came from her husband and affected her because her mother was verbally abusive.  Therefore, I wanted to provide her with tools she could use to clarify the critic’s intent.

♦ Key Words
First, I discussed some key words with Maria that I felt may be helpful to her when probing to clarify her critic’s intent. Key words that I discussed with Maria included, ‘exactly,’ ‘specifically,’ and ‘for example.’ Maria and I role played some of the previous criticisms we had discussed in past sessions. 

For example, when Maria had explained how her husband told her that she let him down, Maria learned that she could clarify his intent by asking, "How exactly have I let you down?" Other probing questions Maria brainstormed where, "What specifically bothers you about the way I drive?"  and, "Can you give me an example of my carelessness?" 

♦ A List of Don’ts
In addition to the key words for probing that Maria and I discussed, I felt it may prove useful to give her some ideas on approaches which would be counter-productive. These included phrases like, "Oh yeah!?,"  "Prove it!,"  and, "Says who?!"   I stated, "You might want to keep your tone inquisitive and non-argumentative." Maria agreed by stating, "Right. The purpose is to get more information, not to start a fight." 

♦ CBT Technique: Probing The Nagger
In addition to key words and the list of Don’ts, a third technique involved in probing is an understanding of probing the nagger. Maria stated, "Sometimes I think my husband doesn’t mean to criticize me. I think he might just like to nag. But it really messes with me because of how my mother was when I was young." How might you have responded to Maria? 

I stated, "It’s helpful to keep asking the nagger for examples of the behavior change he wants you to make. Insist that your husband’s complaint be put in the form of a request for a change in your behavior. Lead your critic away from abstract and pejorative terms."  For example, in role playing a recent criticism from her husband, Maria played his part and I played hers. Maria stated, "You’re lazy." Using probing, I responded by asking, "Lazy how, exactly?" Maria stated, "You just sit around."  I asked, "What do you want me to do?" As her husband, Maria stated, "Stop being such a slug."

At this point, Maria stopped and asked, "How in the hell was I supposed to respond to that? I felt like slapping him!" How might you have responded to Maria?  I stated, "I’m certain it was frustrating to have to internalize a comment like that. One way to respond could have been to probe by stating, ‘No, really.  I want to know what you’d like me to do'." Back in role play once more, Maria stated, "Well, do the dishes for one thing."  I stated, "And what else?"  Maria stated, "How about stop staring at the tube all day?" I stated, "No, that’s what you don’t want me to do. What actual things do you want me to do instead?" 

As Maria learned, this probing approach influences the nagger to move beyond name-calling and vague complaining toward some real requests that the client can consider seriously.  Do you agree that probing can direct focus away from the recitation of past sins and toward the future, where the possibility for real change exists? 

Finally, I explained to Maria that probing is most useful as an interim tactic.  I stated, "Probing just clears up your understanding of the critic’s intent.  Once you have that clarification, you still have to choose whether to acknowledge the criticism or to use one of the forms of clouding."  Can your client, like Maria, benefit from probing or the other effective response styles in these last three sections?

In this section, we discussed probing.  We discussed key words, a list of don’ts and CBT techniques for probing the nagger.

- Sharma, S., & Agarwala, S. (2013) Contribution of Self-Esteem and Collective Self-Esteem in Predicting Depression. Psychological Thought, 6 (1), 117-123.

In the next section, we will discuss obstacles to change manifested as habit and reflex.  We will also discuss a  technique called The Howitzer Mantras.
Reviewed 2023  

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Barnett, M. D., Maciel, I. V., & King, M. A. (2019). Sandbagging and the self: Does narcissism explain the relationship between sandbagging and self-esteem? Journal of Individual Differences, 40(1), 20-25.

Burke, E., Pyle, M., Machin, K., Varese, F., & Morrison, A. P. (2019). The effects of peer support on empowerment, self-efficacy, and internalized stigma: A narrative synthesis and meta-analysis. Stigma and Health, 4(3), 337–356.

Chiappe, D., Morgan, C. A., Kraut, J., Ziccardi, J., Sturre, L., Strybel, T. Z., & Vu, K. L. Evaluating probe techniques and a situated theory of situation awareness. (Dec 2016). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22(4), 436-454.

Dunkley, David M., Starrs, Claire J., Gouveia, Lucie, & Moroz, Molly. (Feb 10 , 2020). Self-critical perfectionism and lower daily perceived control predict depressive and anxious symptoms over four years. Journal of Counseling Psychology, No Pagination Specified.

Gaines, A. N., Constantino, M. J., Coyne, A. E., Atkinson, L. R., Bagby, R. M., Ravitz, P., & McBride, C. (2023). Change in satisfaction with social support as a common outcome in interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication.

Hallis, L., Cameli, L., Dionne, F., & Knäuper, B. (Jun 2016). Combining Cognitive Therapy with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for depression: A manualized group therapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 26(2), 186-201.

Joeng, J. R., & Turner, S. L. (Jul 2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: Fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 453-463.

Kannan, D., & Levitt, H. M. (2013). A review of client self-criticism in psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 23(2), 166–178.

McGrath, D. S., Sherry, S. B., Stewart, S. H., Mushquash, A. R., Allen, S. L., Nealis, L. J., & Sherry, D. L. (Jul 2012). Reciprocal relations between self-critical perfectionism and depressive symptoms: Evidence from a short-term, four-wave longitudinal study. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 44(3), 169-181.

Orth, Ulrich, Robins, Richard W., Meier, Laurenz L., & Conger, Rand D. (Jan 2016). Refining the vulnerability model of low self-esteem and depression: Disentangling the effects of genuine self-esteem and narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(1), 133-149.

Sharma, S., & Agarwala, S. (2013). Contribution of Self-Esteem and Collective Self-Esteem in Predicting Depression. Psychological Thought, 6(1), 117-123.

Smith, M. M., Hewitt, P. L., Sherry, S. B., Flett, G. L., Kealy, D., Tasca, G. A., Ge, S., Ying, F., & Bakken, K. (2023). A meta-analytic test of the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy for perfectionism: A replication and extension. Canadian Psychology / Psychologie canadienne, 64(4), 355–376.

Suh, H. N., Pigott, T., Rice, K. G., Davis, D. E., & Andrade, A. C. (2023). Meta-analysis of the relationship between self-critical perfectionism and depressive symptoms: Comparison between Asian American and Asian international college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 70(2), 203–211.

What are three main objectives for probing?
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Section 7
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