50 Depression Questions to Ask Clients During a Therapy Session

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 5% of adults globally grapple with depression, a prevalent mental health issue. The diverse symptoms of depression often stem from a complex interplay of social, psychological, and genetic factors, contributing to the distinct experiences observed among individuals seeking clinical support. Keep reading to learn 55 depression questions to ask clients in therapy sessions.

People experiencing depression may encounter challenges with concentration, diminished self-esteem, disrupted sleep patterns, pervasive feelings of hopelessness, and a waning interest in once-pleasurable activities. Situational triggers, such as overwhelming pressures at school or work, health-related issues, financial strain, or experiences of grief and loss, can exacerbate these depressive symptoms. The duration of these symptoms varies among individuals; while some may experience them briefly, others grapple with their effects for weeks or even months. In certain cases, depressive symptoms may align with specific mental health conditions like major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder.

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When working with clients who are struggling with depressive symptoms, depression questions can be used to explore the symptoms that your client is experiencing. Two important topics to explore with clients are any thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Being thorough and thoughtful about the depression questions that you use can help you determine the severity of your client’s concerns, and what kind of support they need. While it can be concerning to have a client who has thoughts about dying, it is not unusual to have passing thoughts of death and dying, which illustrates the importance of your depression screening questions.

Depression symptoms can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life functioning and overall well-being. Some individuals find themselves struggling to get out of bed, take care of themselves, and manage their responsibilities. The treatment approaches that we use with clients who are living with depression will depend on the severity of their symptoms, mental health history, medical history, and relevant life factors.

Approximately 16.5% of individuals who have major depression are also living with co-occurring substance use disorder. Substances can be used in an attempt to self-medicate and self-self-soothe when mental health symptoms are uncomfortable and distressing. While it may feel as though substances are reducing the level of distress at the moment, they often provide temporary relief and increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction. Depression screening questions can incorporate substance use patterns to identify any misuse and abuse.

Effective treatment options for depression can include therapy or a combination of therapy and psychotropic medications. While some clients benefit from a combination of both approaches, this is not the case for everyone. As an example, someone who is experiencing mild depressive symptoms may not warrant the need for psychotropic medications, whereas someone with severe symptoms may benefit greatly from them. Therapy can help clients learn to recognize unhealthy thoughts and new ways of thinking, and learn new coping skills. They will also have an opportunity to process any previous experiences, such as trauma and abuse, that have contributed to their current depressive symptoms. Depression treatment is available in both inpatient and outpatient treatment settings. 

Getting Ready for Your First Session with a New Client Struggling with Depression

Before meeting with a new client, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the materials that you will be using in your session. Depending on your role in your clinical setting, this can include various assessments, screeners, and a biopsychosocial assessment. Clinicians who have experience in intake sessions often develop a flow or style to their assessments that feels natural to them, which often requires less preparation for their sessions.

It can also be helpful to have a list of local resources for your clients who are struggling with depression. This can include support groups and hotlines that they can access outside their session for support.

Additionally, another important aspect of preparing for sessions is checking in with yourself to make sure that you are in a place where you can provide your client with your undivided attention. Counselors and therapists are humans, which means that we are not immune to the trials and tribulations of life. If you need to take a minute for yourself before your next session, do it! Meditations, deep breathing exercises, stretching, and listening to a favorite song are quick activities that can help you manage your own thoughts and emotions throughout the day.

Depression Questions to Ask Clients

If you have not already worked with a client who is struggling with depression, it is a concern that you could easily encounter in your clinical work. Being mindful of the questions you are asking, your presence in the room, and other non-verbal signs is an important component of your assessment. When clients feel safe and heard, they are more likely to open up about their struggles. This allows us to develop an understanding of their needs and determine if there are any risk factors that need further assessment.

Examples of questions therapists ask depressed clients include:

  1. How would you describe your mood?
  2. How are you feeling today?
  3. What are some changes that you would notice if you could cope with your depressive symptoms?
  4. How would your life look if you were able to cope with your depression?
  5. How do you feel your life would be different if you weren’t living with depression?
  6. Have you noticed any triggers for your depression?
  7. How do you feel you do when it comes to communicating your needs with those around you?
  8. Are there any emotions that you are uncomfortable sitting with or expressing?
  9. What has helped you in the past when you were struggling with your mental health?
  10. Can you tell me about any mental health concerns you have struggled with in the past?
  11. Have you experienced any significant losses, challenges, or stressors within the past year?
  12. Have you experienced any trauma in your life?
  13. Have you received support or treatment for your adverse childhood experiences?
  14. Can you share with me information about any childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma that you experienced?
  15. Can you tell me about the people in your life who you feel supported by?
  16. How often do you find yourself using substances to cope?
  17. Do you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs when you are distressed?
  18. Can you tell me about your coping skills?
  19. When you are having a hard day, is there anything that helps you?
  20. How do you show yourself kindness?
  21. Is there anyone in your life you have felt comfortable sharing your experience with?
  22. Has anyone close to you completed suicide in the past?
  23. Can you tell me about what happened and how you feel about it today?
  24. Have you attempted to kill yourself in the past?
  25. What has kept you from going through with your plan?
  26. Did you, or do you, have access to the method in your plan?
  27. When you have thought about killing yourself, did you ever make a plan?
  28. Have you thought about killing yourself?
  29. Is there anything, or anyone, that has been helpful in those challenging moments?
  30. Are there any triggers that you have noticed occurring before you begin having thoughts of self-harm?
  31. How often do you/were you engaging in self-harm?
  32. Can you tell me about your experience with self-harm?
  33. Have you ever had thoughts of harming yourself?
  34. Could you please describe your thoughts for me?
  35. Have you found yourself pulling away from your hobbies and other interests?
  36. How often could you do something enjoyable, like a hobby or special interest?
  37. What do you do for fun?
  38. Have you noticed yourself withdrawing from family or friends?
  39. How often can you spend time with friends and family?
  40. Have you been able to manage your personal and work-related responsibilities?
  41. Can you tell me about your exercise routine?
  42. Tell me about your daily routine; is there any point of the day that is more challenging than others?
  43. Have you found yourself struggling to find or maintain motivation lately?
  44. What does waking up in the morning look like for you? Is this a difficult part of your day?
  45. Have you experienced challenges falling asleep?
  46. How do you feel your sleeping patterns have been recently?
  47. Can you tell me about any changes you have noticed in your appetite and diet?
  48. Have you experienced any weight gain or loss unexpectedly?
  49. How has your mood affected your sleep and appetite?
  50. Do you feel as though you have been irritable or moody lately?

Final Thoughts on Depression Questions to Ask Clients in Therapy Sessions

Depression screening questions can be used to help clinicians understand their clients’ experiences and current challenges. It is important to be mindful of the language that is used when discussing suicide and self-harm behaviors. Shying away from using specific words can create a barrier or make clients feel uncomfortable talking about their struggles.

If you would like to learn more about depression, depressive disorders, and providing depression treatment, we encourage you to look into continuing education and training opportunities near you. Supervision sessions can provide you with additional time to explore your clinical experience with clients who are living with depression and depressive-related conditions.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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