Interviewing in Psychology

Interviewing in psychology refers to situations in which the interview methodology of communicating is used in order to ascertain information. This may take place in a psychological or psychiatric context, in a social work situation, or as part of a police-related matter or legal encounter. Likewise, the term may be used in conjunction with situations related to employment. The interviewing techniques may bear some similarities between circumstances, but the venue of the interview, the interviewer and the interviewee may be markedly different.

When interviewing a child, there are critical factors that need to be taken into account. Clare Wilson and Martine Powell in their 2001 book A Guide to Interviewing Children: Essential Skills for Counsellors, Police, Lawyers and Social Workers relate the essential criteria for conducting interviews in a counseling, legal, social work or police-force context. Given that the interview may aim at ascertaining details of a trauma or instance of abuse, great sensitivity is required on the part of the interviewer to ensure that the interviewee, whether an adult or a child, is not exposed to inappropriate questioning. In these cases, the interviewer must be an empathic listener while at the same time, obtain the required information.

Many sources outline the specific skills and strategies needed to conduct an effective and sensitive interview. In many instances, it is necessary to gain consent from the parents in order for the interview to take place. Furthermore, there is usually a proviso regarding who should be present at the interview and the seating arrangements, often for reasons of the participants' safety and security. Interview protocol needs to be followed. The person selected to conduct the interview must possess the requisite listening skills and ability to establish rapport.

Where language or cultural issues are pertinent, these need to be taken into account during the interviewing process. The interviewer must have an understanding of multi-cultural perspectives and norms; in some cases, it might be necessary to find an interviewer with the same culture and language as the interviewee.

In all interview, significant skill is required to gain a deeper psychological understanding of the person being interviewed. Questions are framed in such a manner as to relate to the person and appreciate where they are coming from in the scenario presented. Empathy is essential, as well as a non-judgmental approach. Trust is the key issue, in all its ramifications.

In a psychiatric context, an initial interview takes place to ascertain the psychological framework of the person being assessed. The interviewer must be fully engaged with the patient and at the same time, be alert to the need for establishing a base of information and creating an effective treatment plan. As this takes place in a limited amount of time, the initial therapeutic encounter is a fine balancing act between engagement and data collection.

Rapport is crucial, and the matching up of an appropriately skilled interviewer with the interviewee is of vital importance. Shawn Christopher Shea and Meg Maloney, in Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding: A Practical Guide for Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, and Other Mental Health Professionals (1998), stress how this first interview, and the therapeutic engagement with the client, lays the foundation for reliable diagnosis, an effective treatment plan, treatment compliance and family support for therapeutic intervention.

Interviewing in a psychological framework necessitates an understanding of practical issues encompassing sensitive and flexible interviewing, and a knowledge of psychopathology and the interviewing process. Verbal and nonverbal behaviors are equally important in making a full assessment within the therapeutic encounter.

In the workplace, interviewing in psychology refers to aspects of psychological information serving a particular function. An interviewer may make use of psychologically based questions to ascertain information that would be difficult to obtain in a traditional interview. Here, as well, the interviewer must understand the significance of both verbal and nonverbal behavior.

In the first instance, an employer may ask questions designed to determine the goals and aspirations of the interviewee, the potential employee. Additionally, concepts of success, qualities considered important, and the ability to think or act creatively might be addressed in this way. With regard to a work setting, the encounter assesses the compatibility between employer and employee needs.

Interviewing in psychology or the psychology of interviewing also provides a framework of psychological theories underpinning the interview process. The way people think, responses, body language, all contribute to a deeper understanding from the perspective of the interviewer and interviewee. Familiarity with these concepts allows more effective management of the interview. Understanding the psychology in interviewing creates heightened awareness of nuances and subtleties.

Sensitivity in giving feedback, especially when an employment applicant is unsuccessful, is a vital tool. An understanding of group dynamics when there are multiple people involved in the interviewing process is also significant for all parties concerned.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding
Shawn Christopher Shea; Meg Maloney.
W. B. Saunders, 1998 (2nd edition)
Basic Interviewing: A Practical Guide for Counselors and Clinicians
Michel Hersen; Vincent B. Van Hasselt.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Handbook of Diagnostic and Structured Interviewing
Richard Rogers.
Guilford Press, 2001
Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change
William R. Miller; Rollnick Stephen.
Guilford Press, 2002 (2nd edition)
Clinical Interviews for Children and Adolescents: Assessment to Intervention
Stephanie H. McConaughy.
Guilford Press, 2005
A Guide to Interviewing Children: Essential Skills for Counsellors, Police, Lawyers and Social Workers
J. Clare Wilson; Martine Powell.
Allen & Unwin, 2001
Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology
C. Eugene Walker; Michael C. Roberts.
John Wiley & Sons, 2001 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Process of the Clinical Child Assessment Interview," Chap. 6 "Assessing Children through Interviews and Behavioral Observations"
The Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing with Offenders: An Outcome Evaluation
Austin, Kevin P.; Williams, Mei Wah M.; Kilgour, Glen.
New Zealand Journal of Psychology, Vol. 40, No. 1, March 2011
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Rogers Redux: Relevance and Outcomes of Motivational Interviewing across Behavioral Problems
Mason, Michael J.
Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 87, No. 3, Summer 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Science of Self-Report: Implications for Research and Practice
Arthur A. Stone; Jaylan S. Turkkan; Christine A. Bachrach; Jared B. Jobe; Howard S. Kurtzman; Virginia S. Cain.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Assessing Protocols for Child Interviews"
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