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To better understand Socratic questioning, the authors reviewed the literature regarding the Socratic method. Despite being regarded as a fundamentally important psychotherapeutic procedure, a great deal of discrepancy exists concerning various aspects of the method, and these incongruities are described. Discord occurs in the literature, for example, concerning the purpose of Socratic questioning and also what the components of the technique might be. It is suggested that striving to achieve clarity regarding the Socratic method would enhance psychotherapy practices and maximize the benefits experienced by clients. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training
2004, Vol. 41, No. 3, 217-226
Stratheden Hospital
To better understand Socratic questioning the
literature regarding the Socratic method is
reviewed. Despite being regarded as a
fundamentally important psychotherapeutic
procedure a great deal of discrepancy exists
concerning various aspects of the method and
these incongruities are described. Discord occurs
in the literature, for example, concerning the
purpose of Socratic questioning and also what the
components of the technique might be. It is
suggested that striving to achieve clarity
regarding the Socratic method would enhance
psychotherapy practices and maximise the
benefits experienced by clients.
What is Socratic questioning? Given that Socratic
questioning is an important and well-established
psychotherapeutic procedure, we initially supposed
that obtaining an authoritative description would be
straightforward. We were wrong. Despite a plethora of
information regarding the delivery of psychotherapy
there is a lack of consensus regarding one of it’s
central techniques.
The Socratic method is ubiquitous in the
psychotherapy literature. Its use has been described for
general disorders such as depression (Burns &
Auerbach, 1993), psychosis (Gumley & Power, 2000),
and personality disorders (Beck, Freeman, &
Associates, 1990) as well as specific problems such as
driver anger (Deffenbacher, Filetti, Lynch, Dahlen, &
Oetting, 2002), school refusal (Kanahara, 2001), and
smoking cessation (Andrews, 2001). Furthermore,
apart from being depicted as central to cognitive
therapy (J. S. Beck, 1995) and a major strategy in
rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT,
DiGiuseppe, 1991b), use of the Socratic method has
been described in therapies such as logotherapy
Timothy A. Carey and Richard J. Mullan, Department of
Clinical Psychology, Stratheden Hospital, Cupar, Fife, Scotland.
Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to
Timothy A. Carey, PhD, Department of Clinical Psychology,
Stratheden Hospital, Cupar KY15 5RR, Scotland. Email:
(Scraper, 2000; Wilson, 1997), Adlerian
psychotherapy (Stein, 1991), and psychoanalysis
(Pateman, 1999; Zerbetto, 1997), as well as in
counselling settings (Goodman, 2001), clinical
supervision contexts (Overholser, 1991; Padesky,
1993b; Walker & Clark, 1999), and sports psychology
(Corlett, 1996).
Our interest in learning more about Socratic
questioning arose from an ongoing professional
dialogue regarding the evaluation and improvement of
psychotherapeutic practices. As we studied the
psychotherapy literature it became apparent that
although the Socratic method is discussed freely, there
does not appear to be a generally accepted description
of the technique and contradictions, inaccuracies, and
inconsistencies exist regarding its use. We began to
wonder what the consequences of this discord might
be. We wondered, for example, if therapists were
clearer about what they do, would they be able to do
what they do more effectively, thereby helping more
people more of the time. This paper is the result of our
The primary purpose of this paper is to provide the
psychotherapeutic community with a review of past
and current thinking regarding Socratic questioning.
We believe that it is important to understand
something accurately before decisions can be made
regarding what to do next about the something.
Therefore, we sought to impose a sense of order on an
otherwise jumbled body of literature so that the chance
to consider what next needs to be addressed would be
In the review we include papers from 1880 to 2003.
We begin by clarifying the terminology that is used
when referring to the Socratic method. Thus, the
beginning of the paper highlights the words that are
used to describe the technique whereas the remainder
of the review examines the ideas behind the
terminology which is used. We examine some of the
issues associated with the implementation of the
technique and also consider definitions of Socratic
questioning, as well as the components and purpose of
the procedure.
After reviewing the Socratic questioning literature
we suggest what seems to us to be a central
discrepancy in the literature. We also offer a
suggestion for research yet to be undertaken. As you
Carey and Mullan
read the paper perhaps you will formulate your own
questions and ideas for future investigations.
Considering Terminology
The Socratic method is labelled differently
throughout the literature. Although the “Socratic”
word remains constant the word that follows often
varies. Linehan (1993), for example, has a reference to
“Socratic reasoning” (p. 556) in the index of her book,
however, at the page number cited, Socratic reasoning
is not referred to but a “Socratic manner” (p. 441) is.
The Socratic method has also been described as being
synonymous with other psychotherapeutic procedures.
In this section we examine the different terms that are
used to describe the Socratic method in order to clarify
what it is we are discussing.
The “Socratic x”
The following terms are some of those that have
been invoked when discussing the Socratic x: Socratic
disputation (Bishop & Fish, 1999), Socratic education
(Pateman, 1999), Socratic elenchus (Mace, 1999), a
Socratic framework (Tweed & Lehman, 2003),
Socratic interrogation (Garner, 1978; Meyer, 1980),
Socratic irony (Karpas, 1915/1916), Socratic practices
(Pateman, 1999), Socratic rhetoric (Frusha, 2002),
Socratic teaching (Rioch, 1970), Socratic techniques
(Overholser, 1988), and “Sokratic cross-examination”
(Mills, 1866, p. 317).
Prior to beginning our search of the literature, we
had believed that, since there was only one Socrates,
there could be only one Socratic method. In hindsight
we recognise that we had implicitly assumed that each
of the different terms was referring to a common
procedure. Some writers, in fact, make explicit the
connection between Socrates and the method they
describe (e.g., DeRubeis, Tang, & Beck, 2001; Diaz-
Guerrera, 1959; Dryden & Mytton, 1999; Nelson,
1997; Padesky, 1996; Pateman, 1999). The greater the
volume of literature we considered, however, the more
we began to question our initial assumption. At times
it seemed as though different procedures were being
referred to.
Distinctions are sometimes made, for example,
between Socratic questioning and Socratic disputing
(DiGiuseppe, 1991b; Neenan & Dryden, 2000a;
2000b) and Socratic questioning and Socratic dialogue
(Rutter & Friedberg, 1999). Rutter and Friedberg go so
far as to claim that there are “considerable differences
between these terms” (p. 481). They claim that
Socratic dialogue “conveys the overall intent of one
trying to assume a collaborative therapeutic stance in a
way that the notion of Socratic questioning does not.”
(p. 481). They provide no reference for this distinction,
however, so this demarcation would appear to be their
own. Also, later in their paper they refer to “Socratic
inquiries” (p. 486). Is Socratic inquiry the same as or
different to Socratic questioning or Socratic dialogue?
The same question could be asked of DiGiuseppe
(1991b) who distinguishes between Socratic
questioning and Socratic disputing but also uses the
terms “Socratic interventions” (p. 183), “Socratic
dialogue” (p. 183), “Socratic style” (p. 183), and the
“Socratic method” (p. 182).
Some authors write as though the Socratic method
and Socratic questioning are different entitites.
Overholser (1988) maintains that the Socratic method
“involves the use of systematic questioning, inductive
reasoning, and universal definitions” (p. 1). In the
section on systematic questioning, Overholser refers to
Socratic questioning. Likewise, Rutter and Friedberg
(1999) claim, “the Socratic method frequently, but not
necessarily, involves the use of questioning” (p. 481).
Overholser, as well as Rutter and Friedberg, therefore,
appear to draw a distinction between the Socratic
method and Socratic questioning.
Other authors, however, are not so sure.
DiGiuseppe (1991b) refers to the “Socratic method of
questioning” (p. 182) as does Lam (1997, p. 1205).
Calvert and Palmer (2003) refer to the “Socratic
method of guided discovery” (p. 33) and also “Guided
discovery through Socratic questioning” (p. 33).
Dryden and Mytton (1999) use the term “Socratic
questioning” as a section heading and then use the
term “Socratic method” in the text of that section. A
consistent delineation between the Socratic method
and Socratic questioning does not inhabit the
We wondered, therefore, whether our initial
premise had been wrong. Perhaps the different terms
beginning with the word “Socratic” refer to different
psychotherapeutic procedures. Does the Socratic x
refer to one fundamental psychotherapeutic technique
or many? If this is the case, however, then the Socratic
literature is in greater disarray than it first appeared.
What is being referred to when the assorted terms are
Blackburn and Davidson (1990), for example,
mention “socratic questioning” (p. 74) and “socratic
style” (p. 88) but don’t provide definitions or
references for either of these terms. It would be
difficult to understand what they are referring to if we
should assume they are discussing two different
procedures with these terms. Also, J. S. Beck (1995)
uses the terms “gentle Socratic questioning” (p. 8),
“Socratic questioning” (p. 112), and “standard Socratic
Socratic Questioning
questioning” (p. 165). If each different term beginning
with “Socratic” is referring to a different procedure, is
it also the case that “gentle Socratic questioning” is
different to “standard Socratic questioning”?
Some evidence seems to indicate that more than
one Socratic x might exist. Given the vague and
contradictory nature of the literature, however, the
most parsimonious solution seems to be to continue to
search for an explanation of the unique procedure
developed by Socrates. Once this technique has been
clarified perhaps other procedures will be understood
more clearly. Thus, as we continued our exploration of
the literature we assumed that any procedure
beginning with the word “Socratic” was referring to
the same psychotherapeutic procedure regardless of
what the other word in the term was.
Throughout this paper we will use the terms
“Socratic method” and “Socratic questioning” to refer
to this procedure. We chose these terms for no reason
other than they are two of the most frequently used
terms in the literature. We will use the terms
interchangeably throughout this paper to refer to the
questioning procedure established by Socrates.
Socratic Method and Other Techniques
Not only is the word “Socratic” followed by
different terms but sometimes entirely new terms are
used in connection with the Socratic method. Burns
and Auerbach (1992), for example, appear to use the
term “paradoxical inquiry” synonymously with
Socratic questioning. In this section we will mention
some of these other terms.
The broadest use we found of the term “Socratic
questioning” was to call all questioning Socratic
questioning (Blackburn, Twaddle, & Associates,
1996). Sometimes this category is narrowed and
Socratic questioning is equated with open-ended
questioning (DiGiuseppe, 1991a; Neenan & Dryden,
2001a). At other times the Socratic method is
associated in various ways with specific techniques. In
terms of guided discovery, for example, Beck, Wright,
Newman, and Liese (1993) state that the Socratic
method is also known as guided discovery. Padesky
(1993a) reports that Socratic questioning incorporates
guided discovery, and also reports that Socratic
questioning is a form of guided discovery (Padesky,
2003). Calvert and Palmer (2003), who we
acknowledged in the last section, maintain that guided
discovery occurs through Socratic questioning, and
Moorey (1996) claims that Socratic questioning is an
“inductive process of guided discovery” (p. 268).
Also, Renton (2002) mentions the use of “the Socratic
method (guided discovery)” (p. 21) whereas Ludgate,
Wright, Bowers, and Camp, (1993) write “guided
discovery (Socratic questioning)” (p. 100). Socratic
questioning has also been described as the Columbo
technique (Alford & Beck, 1994; Peterson, Tremblay,
Ewigman, & Saldana, 2003).
Is Socratic questioning similar to other techniques?
In the previous section we demonstrated that
imprecision exists regarding what is being referred to
when a term contains the word “Socratic”. This
ambiguity would be compounded exponentially were
we to consider that Socratic terms might somehow be
related to other psychotherapeutic strategies. It does
not seem that investigating the association between
Socratic questioning and other terms would be useful
until the nature of the Socratic method itself is
Using the Socratic Method
Overholser (1987; 1988; 1991; 1993a; 1993b;
1994; 1995; 1996; 1999) appears to have written the
most extensively about the use of the Socratic method
in psychotherapy. Inconsistencies exist in the role
Overholser assigns to the therapist using the Socratic
method. At different times Overholser describes the
therapist as a catalyst (1987; 1988), a guide (1993a), a
colleague (1995), and a consultant (1995). Should a
therapist fulfil one of these roles or all four? Does it
matter? Does a catalyst have a different function from
a guide, colleague, or consultant? Overholser (1995)
also describes the client as a guide. Does this mean the
therapist and the client sometimes have the same role?
Another inconsistency concerns when the Socratic
method should be used. Dattilio (2000) recommends
using the Socratic method primarily during the
exploration and/or assessment phase of therapy. Beck
et al. (1993) recommend use of the Socratic method
from the beginning of treatment. DiGiuseppe (1991b),
however, when clarifying the distinction between
didactic strategies and Socratic questioning, reports
“As a general rule, didactic strategies are used more in
the beginning of therapy” (p. 185) with Socratic
questioning being “used more as therapy progresses
and as the therapist prepares clients to function more
independently and to dispute on their own.” (p. 185).
There are also inconsistencies related to how the
Socratic method should be used. Padesky (1993a)
states that Socratic questioning should generally move
clients “from the concrete to the more abstract” (p.13)
but also that “Socratic questioning in reality often goes
from the abstract (“I’m no good”) to the concrete (the
family reunion) to the abstract (qualities of a good
father) to the concrete (a behavioral experiment).” (p.
16). Johnson and Matross (1975) state that Socrates’
Carey and Mullan
use of questioning and inductive reasoning was
designed to derive “general statements from specific
cases” (p. 74). The therapeutic technique described by
Stein (1991), however, is derived from the Socratic
method and Stein describes using a sequence of
narrowing questions to “logically move from general
and abstract ideas to specific and concrete
applications.” (p. 243).
If the Socratic method is as important to
psychotherapy as suggested (e.g., J. S. Beck, 1995)
then clearly it must be important for therapists to know
what their role is when using this method. Is it also
important to be clear about when and how the
procedure should be used? Is it important for therapists
to know what they are doing when they do Socratic
Definitions of the Socratic Method
Problems of definition exist in the literature to the
extent that many authors do not define the Socratic
method (e.g., Ellis, 1971, 1994; Beck & Emery, 1985;
Ludgate, et al., 1993; J. S. Beck, 1995). Even when
definitions do exist the definitions differ among
authors. This is perhaps ironic since Socrates himself
was often solely concerned with arriving at a
definition of whatever was being discussed
(Beversluis, 1974; Gold, 1985; Lageman, 1989).
Overholser (1987) stated “The Socratic method of
interviewing encourages the client to contemplate,
evaluate, and synthesize diverse sources of
information, most of which were already available to
the client.” (p. 258). Corsini (2002) defines the
Socratic dialogue/method as
1. In counseling, a carefully constructed series of questions
designed to arrive at logical responses to a problem and proper
conclusions about future actions.
2. Inductive dialectic procedure leading a person to accept or admit
the desired conclusion by means of a progressive series of leading
questions that are answered in turn.” (p. 921).
Padesky (1993a) maintained that
Socratic questioning involves asking the client questions which:
(1) the client has the knowledge to answer, (2) draw the client’s
attention to information which is relevant to the issue being
discussed but which may be outside the client’s current focus, (3)
generally move from the concrete to the more abstract so that (4)
the client can, in the end, apply the new information to either re-
evaluate a previous conclusion or construct a new idea. (p. 13)
Overholser (1987) defines a technique that involves
the manipulation of information which is mostly
available to the client. Corsini’s (2002) definition
seems to have something to do with logical responses
and desired conclusions. Padesky (1993a) mentions,
among other things, evaluating existing conclusions
and constructing new ideas. We are not sure if these
definitions describe one technique or more than one.
We had assumed that agreement regarding definitions
of procedures was important and we now found
ourselves questioning this assumption.
In the absence of an accepted definition of the
Socratic method in the psychotherapy literature, we
turned to the field of philosophy. The following
definition was located in a philosophy dictionary under
the heading “Socratic method”:
The dialectical method supposedly employed by the historical
Socrates, and displayed in PLATO’S earlier dialogues. The crux is
that the teacher should by patient questioning bring the pupil to
recognize some true conclusion, without the teacher’s telling the
pupil that that conclusion is true… Tutors who have attempted to
follow Socratic method will have been made aware of the
importance of the fact that Plato was able to script the answers as
well as the questions. (Flew & Priest, 2002, p. 377).
Flew and Priest (2002), therefore, also mention the
idea of conclusions but introduce the idea that the
conclusion is true and that the pupil is brought to
recognise this conclusion by the teacher. Is this
defining the same technique that Overholser (1987),
Corsini (2002) and Padesky (1993a) defined? How can
a technique be judiciously reviewed, evaluated, and
even implemented without defining what the technique
actually is?
Components of the Socratic Method
Overholser has provided several papers discussing
suggested components of the Socratic method. Initially
he states “Socrates relied on systematic questioning
and inductive reasoning” (Overholser, 1987, pp. 258-
259). In his next paper, Overholser (1988) moves from
two to three components. As we remarked earlier,
Overholser reports that, “The Socratic method
involves the use of systematic questioning, inductive
reasoning, and universal definitions” (p. 1). Later,
Overholser (1995) introduces another component “the
Socratic method also requires that the therapist
maintain a general attitude involving a disavowal of
knowledge” (p. 283). From then on Overholser
describes the Socratic method as having four
components (e.g., Overholser, 1996).
It is also interesting to note that Overholser’s series
of papers about the Socratic method is called
“Elements of the Socratic Method” (Overholser,
1993a; 1993b; 1994; 1995; 1996; 1999). There are six
papers in this series and each paper has a different
subtitle. The first paper for example, is titled
“Elements of the Socratic Method: I. Systematic
Socratic Questioning
questioning” (Overholser, 1993a) and the sixth paper
is titled “Elements of the Socratic Method: VI.
Promoting virtue in everyday life.” (Overholser,
1999). It appears then, that Overholser, at least on
some occasions, believes there are six elements to the
Socratic method.
An alternative way of conceptualising different
aspects of the Socratic method might be to create
categories of different kinds of Socratic questions.
Rutter and Friedberg (1999), for example, report that J.
S. Beck (1995) lists five broad classes of Socratic
inquiries. Beck, however, does not mention broad
classes of Socratic inquiry in her book so this
distinction would appear to be one devised by Rutter
and Friedberg.
In the psychotherapy literature, therefore, we
currently have suggestions of two (Overholser, 1987),
three (Overholser, 1988), and four components
(Overholser, 1996) of the Socratic method. Overholser
also suggests that there are six elements (e.g.,
Overholser, 1999) of the Socratic method. Elsewhere
five classes of Socratic inquiry are proposed (Rutter &
Friedberg, 1999). Can the Socratic method be
dissected into distinct components? Is the practice of
psychotherapy compromised when the components of
one of it’s principal strategies eludes description?
Purposes of the Socratic Method
Discord is found in the Socratic questioning
literature when unanimity is sought regarding the
purpose of the technique. What do therapists intend
when they question Socratically? As with other parts
of the literature, a range of different purposes are
described by various authors. Rioch (1970) describes
the method as a process of teaching in which what is
already known is drawn out, Chessick (1982) states
that the method was invented as an attempt to find
eternal values, and Alford and Beck (1994) report that
the Socratic method can be used to avoid and reduce
The primary disagreement in the literature
regarding the correct purpose of the Socratic method,
however, is whether or not therapists know the
answers to clients’ problems. In this paper we do not
wish to explore the clinical merits of either allowing
clients to generate their own solutions or providing
clients with solutions that therapists have devised. Our
intention is only to describe that the discrepancy
Padesky (1993a) states that she “can’t accept that
the goal of Socratic questioning is to change client’s
beliefs.” (p. 6). She recommends using Socratic
questioning to allow clients to generate their own
solutions. Writers both before and after Padesky
(1993a) have suggested that the Socratic method is
used by the therapist to facilitate a process of self-
discovery for the client (Birchwood & Spencer, 2000;
Chadwick, Birchwood, & Trower, 1996; Mahoney,
1974). From this perspective therapists assume that
they do not know the answer to their clients’ problems
and they attempt to discover the solution together
(Overholser, 1995).
One of the main concepts of this particular view of
the Socratic method is the idea of guiding or leading.
According to Padesky (1993a), for example, a
“cognitive therapist can guide without knowing where
she and the client are going to end up.” (p. 10). Also
Beck, et al. (1993) describe Socratic questioning as a
main feature of cognitive therapy where the therapist
“leads the patient to examine areas that the patient has
closed off from scrutiny” (p. 29).
While the idea that therapists do not know the
solutions to their clients’ problems is commonly
described in the literature, some authors suggest that
Socrates’ purpose when he questioned his students was
to change their minds. Johnson and Matross (1975),
for example, state that Socrates used his method to
change the attitude of his students. Johnson and
Matross also report that the students’ attitudes changed
in such a way that they more closely resembled
Socrates’ attitudes by the end of the process. The
important part of this approach to Socratic questioning
seems to be not just about changing clients’ attitudes
but changing them in particular ways.
Lam (1997) proposes a model of disputing which
he states uses the concept of the Socratic method. Lam
suggests that this model is particularly appropriate for
those clients whose irrational beliefs are so embedded
that it is a struggle to change them. Gardner (1999)
reports “Socrates used questions to drive his students
to the conclusions to which he had wanted all along to
drive them.” (p. 99).
Even with the notion of guiding or leading,
comprehending what is meant by these terms is not
straightforward. Although Padesky (1993a) asserts that
therapists can guide without knowing where they are
going, Pateman (1999) explains the process of guiding
differently. According to Pateman “Socrates is no naïf,
setting out on a first unguided and untutored
philosophical journey every time we meet him. He has
been on the journey before and knows at least some of
the paths and pitfalls. His questioning of his
companions is guided (informed and structured) by a
prior understanding of the territory to be traversed and
possible routes through it. This prior knowledge may
be deliberately understated or held in a tentative
Carey and Mullan
fashion, but it clearly exists. Without it, Socrates
would be useless as a guide.” (p. 48).
The idea of leading clients in particular directions
is used by other authors. Diaz-Guerrera (1959) reports
that in the Socratic method “the therapist, making use
of his greater experience or knowledge, leads the
patient by questions to the therapeutic insights.” (p.
78). Stein (1991) discusses the use of the Socratic
method from an Adlerian perspective. Stein maintains
“the therapist must have an idea of what direction
would yield the most useful information, clarification,
or insight.” (p. 242). Scraper (2000) reports that the
Socratic method “contains a series of easily answered
questions designed to lead a person to the awareness
the questioner is presenting.” (p. 14).
Clearly the purposes of changing minds or guiding
discovery are dichotomous. Therapists either intend to
change clients’ minds or they don’t. Some authors,
however, advocate a combination of these two
DeRubeis, et al. (2001) refer to the Socratic method
of questioning which is when the therapist, “through
the use of leading questions, of helping patients to
arrive at new perspectives that challenge their faulty
conclusions. The art of Socratic questioning as it is
used in cognitive therapy is for the therapist to walk
the line between leading the patient where the therapist
would like him or her to go on the one hand, and
allowing the patient to “free associate” on the other.”
(p. 363). DeRubeis et al. report that Socrates tended to
know exactly where he was going with his line of
J. S. Beck (1995) maintains that within an
atmosphere of collaboration, “the therapist
nevertheless mentally formulates a range of more
reasonable beliefs so he can appropriately choose
strategies to change the old belief.” (p. 150). Beck
summarises this process by stating that “before the
therapist tries to modify a patient’s belief, he confirms
that it is a central, strongly held belief and he
formulates in his own mind a more functional, less
rigid belief that is thematically related to the
dysfunctional one, but which he believes would result
in greater satisfaction for the patient. He does not
impose this belief on the patient but rather guides the
patient in a collaborative manner, using Socratic
questioning, to construct an alternative belief.”
Anderson and Goolishian (1992) present an
approach to the Socratic method that seems quite
different from anything else in the literature. They
promote a “not-knowing” approach to psychotherapy
in which the “emphasis is not to produce change but to
open space for conversation.” (p. 29). Anderson and
Goolishian claim that questions asked from a not-
knowing perspective are similar to Socratic questions.
These questions are not rhetorical or pedagogical.
Furthermore, they maintain that whereas questions
from traditional therapy often imply a direction for the
“correct” answer, not-knowing questions do not. The
purpose of not-knowing questions, for example, is not
to talk or manipulate clients away from their ideas nor
to challenge their reality (Anderson & Goolishian).
Despite their emphasis on not changing the client
however, when summarising Anderson and Goolishian
say “This kind of dialogical exchange facilitates the
change in first-person narrative that is so necessary to
change in therapy.” (p. 37).
There is no definitive statement in the literature,
therefore, about the purpose of the Socratic method. In
fact, some of the stated purposes are diametrically
opposed. Is the Socratic method used to change
clients’ minds or not?
We began gathering information about the Socratic
method because we wanted to learn about an essential
psychotherapeutic procedure. Our journey through the
literature revealed a picture of Socratic questioning
that we found surprising. In the literature there are
numerous terms added to the word “Socratic” which
all seem to describe a way of working with clients in
psychotherapy. Socratic questioning is used for a
myriad of problems. It appears to be most commonly
associated with the cognitive behavioural school of
psychotherapies although writers from a variety of
other psychotherapies also report using the technique.
Despite the stated importance of the Socratic
method for psychotherapy (Beck, et al., 1993; J. S.
Beck, 1995), clarity regarding this procedure is
chimeric. Someone wishing to learn Socratic
questioning could not discern from the literature what
the procedure was, when it should be used, how it
should be used, or what it should be used for. Indeed, a
question as seemingly banal as the title of this paper –
What is Socratic questioning? – cannot be answered
from existing descriptions.
It seems that the term “Socratic method” can refer
to almost anything at all. The discrepancy in the
section describing the purpose of Socratic questioning
is instructive. If Socratic questioning is concerned with
changing minds then a technique designed not to
change clients’ minds could not legitimately be called
Socratic questioning. It would seem inherently
underhand and deceptive to advocate a process of self-
discovery if it was the case that pre-determined
“discovery” was on the agenda. Currently, however,
Socratic Questioning
Socratic terms are used to refer to both changing
minds and not changing minds.
We are reminded of the riddle: “How many legs
does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?” The answer
is: “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” At
the moment it seems that we have tails and legs in
psychotherapy. Whilst we are no wiser after dissecting
the literature as to the nature of Socratic questioning, it
is abundantly clear that two different procedures
cannot legitimately be called the same. The Socratic
method presently refers to a procedure in which
therapists attempt to change clients’ minds, and also a
process in which therapists allow clients’ to change
their own minds. It may very well refer to other
techniques as well.
The Socratic questioning literature, therefore, is
plagued by the bothersome juxtaposition of two quite
different approaches. The divergence seems to be in
how psychotherapeutic change is pursued. In one
approach, the therapist is responsible for determining
what the result of the change will be. In the other
approach the client is responsible for conjuring the
change. We are not sure whether one of these
approaches is the Socratic method or if neither of them
is. We are convinced that both of them cannot be.
Also, we are not suggesting that one approach is more
worthy than another. We are simply proposing that at
least one approach is not Socratic questioning. A rose
by any other name is still a rose but a daisy is not a
rose no matter how fervently and frequently we say it
is. The issue here, however, is much more than an
issue of assigning labels correctly. If we could
distinguish Socratic questioning from other techniques
we would be well positioned to begin to examine the
different methods for the ways in which they
contribute to psychotherapy outcomes. Is the
differential employment of separate psychotherapeutic
methods of any consequence to the success of therapy?
While different methods continue to be called the
same thing the possibility for this type of examination
will never be available.
Of course, it could be the case that the questions we
have posed throughout this paper are inconsequential.
It certainly seems that clarification of the Socratic
method is not a priority. A statement which indicated
that psychotherapeutic practices such as the Socratic
method were unimportant, however, would carry
profound implications for many research projects,
training programs, and psychotherapy practices. If
psychotherapy is an important activity, are its
procedures also important? How much more helpful
might this activity be if the procedures used during the
activity were clearly and unequivocally described?
Surely, if it is desirable to be maximally effective
with clients then it is imperative to be certain about the
strategies that are employed. Uncertainty or ambiguity
could mean using strategies poorly or using them at
inappropriate times. We hope that by providing an
accurate description of the Socratic questioning
literature we will have provided some assistance to
people who are interested in searching for ways of
eliminating the confusion that exists.
The Future of the Socratic Method
When we finished scrutinising the literature it
appeared that many of our questions converged on a
particular theme. We wondered if the area that had
been spotlighted by our questioning might not provide
a direction for future enquiry. Conceptual
entanglements in the literature seem to point to the
notion that the intent of the therapist is a decisive
element in psychotherapy practices. Some proponents
of Socratic questioning recommend that the intent of
therapists should be to hear clients articulating
solutions to problems which the therapists had
previously formulated. Other advocates of Socratic
questioning suggest that the intent of therapists should
be to hear clients articulate novel solutions to
problems which neither the therapist nor the client had
Our suggestion then, is that intent in psychotherapy
be examined more closely. We are curious to learn
whether therapists who intend to change patients’
thinking achieve different therapeutic outcomes than
therapists who intend to provide opportunities for
patients to change their own thinking. Is it what we
intend that determines the effect of psychotherapeutic
procedures? Does the process of psychotherapy
proceed most satisfactorily when some intended
outcomes rather than others are pursued?
As we reflected on the calamitous state of the
literature it occurred to us that much would be rectified
by considering the notion of intent. Asserting
explicitly and undeniably what therapists intend when
they question Socratically will enable an unambiguous
definition of the Socratic method to emerge. When this
happens we will be clearer about what
psychotherapists are doing when they do the Socratic
method. Once exactitude reigns over Socratic
questioning, answers to other puzzlements such as
when to use the method, what problems to use it for,
who to use it with, and its relation to other procedures
might also be revealed.
Carey and Mullan
Concluding Comments
This paper is the result of our attempt to understand
one psychotherapy technique a little better. Along the
way we discovered the path strewn with imprecision
and contradictions. We sought clarity about an
important psychotherapy procedure. We found a
Our investigation of the literature has raised more
questions for us than it has answered. Questions about
the Socratic method have generated for us even more
questions about psychotherapy in general. Does the
therapist know the solution to the client’s problems?
What do clients learn when they learn to solve their
problems? How might clients most efficiently be
The treatment of psychological distress is a growth
industry. More people, not less, are seeking the
services of counsellors, therapists, psychologists, and
other mental health workers. In order to be thoroughly
beneficial to these people we are obliged to become
more certain about what it is that we do. This
assuredness will emerge as we become clearer about
the methods we use and our purposes for using them.
Developing a rigorous approach to the use of the
Socratic method, therefore, may produce effects that
reverberate though other areas of psychotherapy.
Ultimately, searching for an answer to “What is
Socratic questioning?” might expose a solution to the
enigma of what it is that psychotherapists do when
they do psychotherapy. With this solution in our grasp
we may realise a previously unattainable amelioration
of psychological distress. For a result such as this,
answers to difficult questions are surely worth
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... The third step of cognitive restructuring involves challenging automatic thoughts through Socratic questioning (for review, Carey & Mullan, 2004;Clark & Egan, 2015) and encouraging flexibility of thinking. This step typically involves a significant amount of collaboration with the therapist. ...
... Participants are given direct instructions about how to reappraise stimuli, rather than learning through a back and forth discussion with the experimenter. The Socratic process is much more dynamic and is thought by many cognitive therapists to be key to change (for discussion, Braun et al., 2015;Carey & Mullan, 2004;Clark & Egan, 2015;Kazantzis et al., 2014). Therefore, while an advantage of the cognitive reappraisal laboratory procedure is that it is relatively easy to implement with minimal interaction from an experimenter and therefore less prone to experimenter bias, this can also be considered a weakness. ...
Laboratory procedures have been used for decades as analogues for clinical processes with the goal of improving our understanding of psychological treatments for emotional disorders and identifying strategies to make treatments more effective. This research has often focused on translation from the laboratory to the clinic. Although this approach has notable successes, it has not been seamless. There are many examples of strategies that work in the laboratory that fail to lead to improved outcomes when applied clinically. One possible reason for this gap between experimental and clinical research is a failure to focus on translation from the clinic to the laboratory. Here, we discuss potential benefits of translation from the clinic to the laboratory and provide examples of how this might be implemented. We first consider two well-established laboratory analogues (extinction and cognitive reappraisal), identify critical aspects of the related clinical procedures (exposure and cognitive restructuring) that are missing from these analogues, and propose variations to better capture the clinical process. Second, we discuss two clinical procedures that have more recently been brought into the laboratory (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing and imagery rescripting). We conclude by highlighting potential implications of this proposed shift in focus for translational research.
... Socratic questioning is a well-established therapeutic procedure that is intended to make the individual think and to stimulate creative thinking (Carey & Mullan, 2004). The type of questions asked and the method of asking them work as triggers in making students think. ...
... Educators ask students questions that probe the students' thinking. The spontaneous discussions provide models of listening critically as well as exploring the briefs expressed (Carey & Mullan, 2004). ...
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Aim/Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to develop instructional rubrics that help in writing and evaluating doctoral dissertation research problem statements. Background: This is a follow up study. In the first paper (Ali & Pandya, 2021), we introduced a model for writing a research problems statement that takes the students through four phases to complete their writing. In this paper, we introduce an instructional rubric to be used for helping to writing the re-search problem statement. Methodology: This paper builds on the previous model, adding to it Socratic questions to trigger critical thinking to help with writing of research problem statement. Contribution: Developing the instructional rubrics is the contribution of this study. The instructional rubrics can help with the writing of a research problem statement. Findings: Writing a research problem statement is difficult by itself. Following the methodological approach suggested in this study will help students with the task of writing their own. Following this instructional rubric will help more with the writing. Recommendations for Practitioners: A methodological approach to writing a research problem statement is helpful in mitigating the difficulties of writing the dissertation. This study tackles the difficulties with writing the research problem statement. Recommendations for Researchers: More research is needed to give examples of research problem statement that shows the writing of the statement through the suggested phases. Impact on Society: The findings of this research will help doctoral mentors/advisors as they guide students in completing the writing of their research problem statement.
... Though researchers have conceptualized Socratic questioning in different ways (Carey & Mullan, 2004), the current study defined Socratic questioning as therapist questions that guided clients to distance themselves from their views (i.e., recognize that they may or may not be true) and examine evidence to evaluate the validity of their negative thoughts and beliefs in an effort to arrive at more accurate, balanced perspectives. Socratic questioning was rated by undergraduate research assistants at sessions 2, 3, and 4. Raters determined the degree to which the therapist utterance used Socratic questioning to guide the client through examining the validity of negative beliefs and assumptions in order to reach a new perspective. ...
... Researchers have described Socratic questioning in different ways, and there is some variability in both what experts include in their characterizations of Socratic questioning and when the use of these strategies is recommended (Carey & Mullan, 2004;Clark & Egan, 2015). Our measure of Socratic questioning emphasized questioning that was focused on helping clients to consider information they may have overlooked and perspectives they had not recognized. ...
Socratic questioning has long been thought to play a critical role in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression. Though use of Socratic questioning is theorized to achieve symptom reduction by promoting cognitive change, research has yet to investigate this pathway. In a sample of 123 clients participating in CBT for depression, we tested cognitive change as a mediator of the relation between Socratic questioning and symptom change in early treatment sessions. We found evidence of a significant indirect effect, consistent with cognitive change mediating the effect of Socratic questioning on change in depressive symptoms. Further analyses showed that pre-treatment CBT skills moderated the effect of Socratic questioning on cognitive change, with this relationship being stronger for clients who started treatment with lower CBT skills. These findings provide support for the view that Socratic questioning contributes to therapeutic gains in CBT through cognitive change. This study also provides initial evidence to suggest the use of Socratic questioning is particularly important for clients who begin treatment with particularly low CBT skills.
... While regarded as an essential practice, a great deal of inconsistency exists involving various aspects of the argumentation method (Carey and Mullan 2004). For instance, Christine A. Padesky stated in her famous 1993 keynote speech that: "Without specifications for what constitutes good Socratic questioning, there can be no research to empirically evaluate whether guided discovery has any more positive long-term effects than simple questioning to change minds" (Padesky 1993, p. 6)-which remains the most difficult of CBT skills for therapists to learn (Waltman et al. 2017). ...
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Using document analysis, religion and philosophy pre-service teachers’ reflections on argumentation and in-class argumentation practices, which were received online, during the Special Teaching Methods course were examined. These documents included reflections of pre-service teachers on argumentation and in-class argumentation practices. Findings emerged in three dimensions: (a) the benefits of the use of argumentation (awareness and motivation skills, teaching via argumentation-based instruction), (b) difficulties in using argumentation (learning environment and motivational factors), and (c) suggestions, in which themes and codes were created in light of such dimensions. The acquired dimension of the use of argumentation consists of the themes of awareness, motivation, skills, and teaching. With regards to suggestions that can be drawn from this document analysis, both religious education and philosophy pre-service teachers stated that preliminary preparations should be made to apply the argumentation technique to the teaching process. The results offer insight on the integration of this technique into teaching as an instructional tool. As an important epistemological exercise, argumentation can be attained as a skill set during formal school education which may facilitate the integration of knowledge.
... Sin embargo, de acuerdo con Clark y Egan (2015) se desconoce cómo operan estos procedimientos, pues han tenido poca investigación experimental y no se ha publicado una revisión sistemática de la literatura que haya concluido una definición empírica del diálogo socrático. Unido a esto, no se conocen con claridad los mecanismos de cambio del diálogo socrático o debate, existiendo gran discrepancia e incongruencia entre los teóricos acerca de la definición, el método, sus componentes y su uso (Carey y Mullan, 2004). Por tales razones, sería preferible ver la reestructuración cognitiva como un resultado más que un simple proceso. ...
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La eficacia demostrada de algunos procedimientos terapéuticos no siempre va seguida de una explicación coherente de su funcionalidad. En este artículo nos proponemos revisar tres de las estrategias terapéuticas más utilizadas en la actualidad: reestructuración cognitiva, defusión cognitiva y mindfulness, ofreciendo una explicación alternativa a las terapias tradicionales, partiendo de su definición como mayoritariamente verbales. La consideración de la cognición como una conducta cualitativamente diferente a cualquier otra conducta humana implica caer en una forma de pensar dualista que poco tiene que ofrecer al desarrollo científico de la psicología. Nuestra propuesta adopta un enfoque monista, basado en procesos de aprendizaje respondiente y operante, dentro de una tradición de análisis conductual. Se considera que las técnicas citadas operan sobre el comportamiento privado pero no difieren ontológicamente del público y, por tanto, están sujetas a contingencias en el proceso terapéutico de forma similar a cualquier otro comportamiento.
... In therapeutic Socratic questioning, several techniques are employed, by which assumed certainties are dismantled (Carey & Mullan, 2004;Kazantzis et al., 2014;Overholser, 1993). When we consider the detail of what has happened, we can explore our emotional responses to this in the present, and we find new possibilities in our future. ...
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Socratic questioning is employed in therapeutic interventions when the beliefs that clients express are critically evaluated using reason and logic. In this paper, that critical lens is turned back on the use of Socratic questioning to examine problems in its philosophical grounding. This critique is informed by our historic and cultural understanding of the life of Socrates. The therapeutic value of a ‘not knowing’ position is observed, and the question of whether this position is genuine or feigned is explored. Socratic questioning and irony are thereby considered in relation to agency and veiled attacks. A problematic move towards stoicism is identified, in which emotional expression might be devalued in the promotion of a passive and indifferent attitude towards life-experiences. It is observed that, as a form of phenomenological enquiry, Socratic questioning enables an attunement to the facticity of the client’s life and interpersonal existence. An ironic edge is valued in maintaining emotive understandings which enable the client to exercise agency. A form of Socratic questioning is recommended, in which the client can take a stance in relation to where it is that they find themselves. Helping them to move into possible and preferred futures.
I dedicate this chapter to reviewing research literature about Socratic dialogue. In this chapter, I review topics such as definition, aim, and how to use Socratic dialogue. There is no consensus about the definition and execution process of Socratic dialogue (Padesky, C. A., Action, dialogue & discovery: Reflections on Socratic questioning 25 years later. Paper presented at the Ninth World Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, Berlin, Germany., 2019).Finally, my suggested solution is to search for the sources of Socrates’s thoughts. These sources are philosophy and logic. In logic knowledge, there are methods to assess the validity of thinking. Socrates asked questions based on logical rules. Throughout the book, I explain the appropriate questioning based on logical rules.KeywordsSocratic methodSocratic questioningSocratic dialogueDifficulties during the questioning processPsychotherapyThe definition of the Socratic methodBenefitsTime to use the Socratic methodHow to use Socratic dialogue
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Training as a cognitive behavioural therapist involves a considerable role transition for mental health professionals where they are expected to demonstrate competence in a range of new skills that emphasise collaboration and Socratic dialogue. This can be in stark contrast to the more didactic style that trainees are familiar with prior to embarking on their training. Guided discovery (GD) is an integral part of formulation and treatment, yet little is known at present about the experiences of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) trainees when learning this new skill; specifically, how they assimilate this with existing ways of working and the challenges this might involve. This research is a preliminary attempt to understand factors that help and hinder GD skill acquisition. Eighteen trainee CBT practitioners completed an online questionnaire with the subsequent data analysed using a grounded theory methodology. Three themes were identified: ‘Competing Selves’, ‘Style’ and ‘Active Engagement and Learning’. These themes were used to develop a preliminary model of factors that enable or inhibit skills in GD. The impact of previous professional roles appears to influence the acquisition of confidence and skill in GD. This paper discusses the implications of the findings for CBT trainers, supervisors and trainees. Key learning aims As a result of reading this paper, readers should: (1) Understand how trainee cognitive behavioural therapists respond to learning how to use guided discovery. (2) Identify potential barriers to acquiring and improving skills in guided discovery. (3) Recognise training strategies that might assist trainees in becoming more proficient in guided discovery.
Insomnia is a prevalent sleep disorder. Insomnia results in distress and daytime impairment and is often comorbid with other sleep, medical, and mental health disorders. This chapter describes best practices for the treatment of insomnia disorder. Practices for non-medication and medication treatments are described, including the first line treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). Treatment recommendations are presented in the context of common comorbidities with insomnia. Additionally, recommendations are provided in the context of first line treatment non-responders. The risks associated with non-medication treatments and medication treatments and strategies to mitigate potential harms are described. The goals of the current chapter are to provide sleep medicine clinicians with (1) knowledge of evidence-based treatments for insomnia disorder and (2) a decision-making framework for the delivery of preparatory, concurrent, and/or supplemental treatments for patients who experience insomnia disorder.
In public philosophy, the question is how best to engage people with the fascinating yet complex mix of science and philosophy that underpins discussions of the good life. Reasoning about the good life implies adopting – consciously or not – a philosophy of life. For instance, the authors briefly compare three paths to the good life: Christianity (a religion), Stoicism (a philosophy), and Buddhism (which has both religious and philosophical strands). They discuss some of the issues that come up when they engage in public philosophy about the good life by way of an in‐depth look at a particular example. Lastly, the authors explore a number of approaches to philosophical public discourse on these themes, based on their experiences as a public philosopher as well as on the published literature.
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This paper seeks to examine the feasibility of targeting cognitive therapy during early relapse, using a single case design. Gumley, White and Power (1999) offer a theoretical conceptualization of psychotic relapse based on Teasdale and Barnard's (1993) ICS model of depression. This conceptualization aims to provide a means for clinicians and patients to formulate the key psychological factors, which may be responsible for the initiation, acceleration and maintenance of relapse, thereby enabling these factors to be targeted should a relapse be indicated. The intervention received by a case illustrated in this paper is derived from the ICS conceptualization of relapse. The intervention has two stages: an initial engagement and formulation phase and, if required, a targeted cognitive therapy phase. All of the characteristics of traditional cognitive therapy are adhered to, including the use of structure, problem focus, agenda, a socratic style, and collaboration. The paper concludes that there is a need for further research to provide further evidence of the feasibility and efficacy of this approach.
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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is the first form of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and was created by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is based on the concept that emotions and behaviours result from cognitive processes; and that it is possible for human beings to modify such processes to achieve different ways of feeling and behaving.
Four Approaches to Counselling and Psychotherapy provides an essential introduction to and overview of the main models of psychotherapy and counselling. With a new preface from Windy Dryden, this Classic Edition traces the development of counselling and psychotherapy, and examines the relationship between the two. The authors consider the four main models - psychodynamic, humanistic, integrative and cognitive-behavioural - before focusing on the most popular approach for each, including person-centred, rational emotive behavioural, and multimodal. Each approach is clearly examined in terms of its historical context and development, its main theoretical concepts and its aims. Written clearly and concisely, the book will have international appeal as an ideal introductory text for all those embarking on psychotherapy and counselling courses. It will also prove invaluable to students requiring a clear introduction to the subject.
Disputing irrational beliefs has always been at the heart of RET. However, my 13 years’ experience in teaching therapists to do RET has revealed that disputing is the art of the science and the hardest thing about RET to teach. Most new therapists learn how to identify the activating event, the emotional consequences, and then the irrational belief. Once the client reveals his or her irrational belief, the therapist asks, “Where’s the evidence?” The client looks confused and says, “I guess there is none.” And the therapist assumes that the client has “got it” and responds, “What other problem would you like to discuss?” As therapists develop more experience, they spend more time disputing. They somehow develop a guide to all of the possible disputes that are available to use with a specific type of problem or a specific irrational belief.
It is useless to look for suffi cient reasons for the Platonic doctrine that the supreme method entails question and answer, because there is none.