Advice-implicative interrogatives: building 'client-centered' support in a children's helpline

Interactional research on advice giving has described advice as normative and asymmetric. In this paper we examine how these dimensions of advice are softened by counselors on a helpline for children and young people through the use of questions. Through what we term “advice-implicative interrogatives,” counselors ask clients about the relevance or applicability of a possible future course of action. The allusion to this possible action by the counselor identifies it as normatively relevant, and displays the counselor’s epistemic authority in relation to dealing with a client’s problems. However, the interrogative format mitigates the normative and asymmetric dimensions typical of advice sequences by orienting to the client’s epistemic authority in relation to their own lives, and delivering advice in a way that is contingent upon the client’s accounts of their experiences, capacities, and understandings. The demonstration of the use of questions in advice sequences offers an interactional specification of the “client-centered” support that is characteristic of prevailing counseling practice. More specifically, it shows how the values of empowerment and child-centered practice, which underpin services such as Kids Helpline, are embodied in specific interactional devices. Detailed descriptions of this interactional practice offer fresh insights into the use of interrogatives in counseling contexts, and provide practitioners with new ways of thinking about, and discussing, their current practices.