Socratic questioning is a common technique that psychologists employ in therapy. The principles of Socratic questioning revolve around the idea that learning and ideas can be discovered by asking the right questions rather than simply telling the person.
Socratic questioning is particularly helpful when it comes to bringing insight into a person’s life and their values and beliefs.
Some examples of Socratic questions include:
- What makes you think…?
- What do you mean by…?
- How does this relate to…?
- What do you think is the main issue?
- What do you find most important about this situation?
These questions illuminate a person’s own beliefs and thoughts and help both the therapist and the patient better understand what is going on in the patient’s mind.
Other important concepts that Socratic questioning can identify from a patient include:
- Wishes, values, hopes, fears, needs
- Core beliefs
- Reasoning and thought process
- Barriers and facilitators to change
In this post, I discuss benefits of the Socratic method in therapy work with patients.
Fostering long-lasting meaningful change
When we are told how we should feel or why we think a certain way, we are likely to resist. Think about the last time your parents told you something; you probably weren’t very keen to listen even if wasn’t outright terrible advice.
However, when a person is guided to their own discovery, they can take much greater ownership of the insights. This is when the insight can really stick.
Therefore, one benefit of Socratic questioning is that the answers ring much truer when a patient comes to the answer themselves compared to the therapist or somebody else telling them. This can be helpful in engendering lasting change and be a motivator for changing our behaviours.
Understanding the patient’s unique perspective
Socratic questioning also helps to identify the patient’s unique thought process and specific values. We as therapists can come up with hypotheses on why a person feels a certain way, but hearing it straight from the patient tends to be more reliable and accurate.
Through Socratic questioning, the therapist gets valuable data to inform treatment and specific areas to target. For example, Socratic questioning might lead the therapist to notice a pattern that the patient begins to start distrusting people who get closer to them. In identifying this pattern, the therapist is in a better position to work through the patient’s challenges.
Building the therapeutic relationship
Socratic questioning has the benefit of showcasing to the patient that the therapist cares because the focus is on understanding the patient’s experience.
Through this process, the patient begins to realize that they are able to share their innermost thoughts and desires without reproach. This is fertile ground for trust and collaboration to flourish.
Reinforcing self-efficacy and understanding
As we discussed, the Socratic method allows a patient to come to their own unique insight and understanding.
This can feel very empowering and strengthen the patient’s belief in working through their own problems. They may feel less stuck in their ways and become more flexible in reflecting on their experience.
If you are interested in learning more, here’s a post on how to use Socratic questioning in therapy.