Welcome to Chipur! If you’re struggling with a mood or anxiety disorder, you’ve come to a good place. Dig-in, okay? Thank you for stopping-by. Bill

Socratic Questioning: Demand, and Use, It to Annihilate Your Depression and Anxiety

Is there a cure for depression

Tens of millions rely solely upon antidepressants to kick a dent in their depression. Certainly no judgment here. However, there’s plenty of comfort and healing to be found when we focus upon our negative thoughts. And Socratic questioning puts it all in motion. What say we dig-in?

And so it’s important to discipline ourselves to use SQ in an effort to confront and reason-through our negative thoughts. When we do, we’ll find we’ve overlooked information that contradicts the garbage we believe to be true.

Greek philosopher Socrates, out and about some 400 years BC, was one smart cookie. I mean, just look at him in that chair. By the way, did you know he was philosopher and mathematician Plato’s teacher?

Of his many existing influences is Socratic questioning, also referred to as Socratic dialogue or Socratic maieutics. Now, that’s a $500 word, and its meaning is important to our discussion.

Maieutics: of or relating to the method used by Socrates of eliciting knowledge in the mind of a person by interrogation and insistence on close and logical reasoning.

Socratic questioning (SQ) can be utilized in a variety of disciplines. And we’re going to examine it within the realm of psychology, specifically depression. I might add that even though the contextual focus here is depression, SQ is just as relevant when it comes to anxiety treatment.

Revealing and Hopeful New Research

A team at The Ohio State University has discovered when psychotherapists use SQ in their cognitive therapy (the front end of cognitive behavioral therapy – CBT) work with depressed clients, substantial symptom improvement is realized. The study details appeared in a recent issue of the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy.

Now, we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of SQ in a bit, but for now, let’s just say it’s about a series of guided questions in which the therapist challenges a client to consider new perspectives on themselves and their place in the world.

From study co-author Justin Braun…

People with depression can get stuck in a negative way of thinking. Socratic questioning helps patients examine the validity of their negative thoughts and gain a broader, more realistic perspective.

And this from co-author Daniel Strunk…

We found that Socratic questioning was predictive of symptom improvements above and beyond the therapeutic relationship – the variable that has been most examined in previous studies.

So here’s how it went down. Fifty-five participants took part in a 16-week course of cognitive therapy for depression. When it was all said and done, the team analyzed video recordings of the first three sessions for each participant and estimated how often the therapist used SQ techniques.

And go figure, the sessions in which more SQ was used generated a greater improvement in pre-measured depressive symptoms.

According to Braun, it was obvious the participants were learning the process of asking themselves questions and, in fact, becoming aware, and skeptical, of their negative thoughts.

For all of us, the more that occurs, the more we can anticipate symptom improvement.

And so it’s important to discipline ourselves to use SQ in an effort to confront and reason-through our negative thoughts. When we do, we’ll find we’ve overlooked information that contradicts the garbage we believe to be true.

Okay, So What is Socratic Questioning

Now that we know how important it is to incorporate SQ, and its crazy-good results, into our lives, we need to learn more about it…

In short, it’s a disciplined style of questioning used to explore complex ideas, get to the truth of the matter, open-up issues and problems, uncover assumptions, analyze concepts, distinguish what we know from what we don’t, and follow-out logical implications of thought.

So how does SQ differ from regular questioning? It’s systematic, disciplined, deep, and typically emphasizes fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems.

Socratic Questioning in Therapy

Used in several therapies of note, we’re going to discuss SQ within the context of cognitive therapy – just like the study.

SQ is used as a cognitive restructuring technique to uncover, challenge, and negate the beliefs, assumptions, and evidence in which our problematic thoughts are grounded. Cognitive distortions loom large here.

Now, there are numerous SQ models out there, and I encourage you to do your due diligence. However, let’s keep it simple and take a look at the following SQ progression, with indicated questions…

  1. Revealing the issue: “What evidence supports this idea? What evidence supports it isn’t true?”
  2. Conceiving reasonable alternatives: “What might be another explanation or point-of-view regarding the circumstances? What else could have made it happen?”
  3. Examining various potential consequences: “What are worst, best, bearable, and most realistic outcomes?”
  4. Evaluate those consequences: “What’s the effect of thinking or believing this? What could be the effect of no longer holding onto this belief – thinking differently?”
  5. Distancing: “Imagine a family member or friend has the same dilemma or views the circumstances as you do. What would you tell them?”

Do you see how SQ works? And, remember, in addition to a therapist asking the questions, we need to be asking them of ourselves!

Here’s a small collection of random SQ questions…

  • Let me see if I understand you; do you mean ____ or ____?
  • Do I understand you correctly? You seem to be assuming ____.
  • Why would someone make this assumption?
  • Is it always the case?
  • What could we assume instead?
  • Do you have any evidence for that?
  • How could we find out whether that’s true?
  • When you say ____, are you implying ____?
  • Would that for sure happen, or just maybe?
  • What would someone who disagrees say?
  • Is there an alternative way of perceiving this?

Do you think consistently asking yourself such questions would challenge and inhibit your negative thoughts? Sure it would.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Hey, I could never fault someone for relying upon antidepressants for depression relief. But you have to believe me when I say there’s so much more to the comfort and healing equation.

If you’re struggling with depression, I’m going to stick my neck out and say your negative thoughts are mega-contributors. How couldn’t they be?

So why not assertively address the obvious dilemma? And you can use Socratic questioning to take care of biz.

Thanks to The Ohio State University, author Jeff Grabmeier, for the study info. Other study co-authors: Katherine Sasso and Andrew Cooper.

Ty to wikipedia.org

More Chipur mood and anxiety disorder titles? Here ya’ go!

  • Nice to know about this, Bill. Trying to remember how you may have used it with me as your mentee….I know about DBT but was not a fan of Socrates but am open to reconsidering this. This does sound very CBT. May have to copy this and take it with me to my therapist!

    BTW my two cents on antidepressants: I went almost 7 years on many, many of them. As I found out in 2014 I am allergic to most of them. They made me more depressed and more suicidal. My antidepressant now is elemental lithium orotate and b12 and I feel very good.

    • Well, it’s used in the front-end of CBT – the “c”ognitive component. As I said in the article, all sorts of very good SQ info and techniques out there. Well worth a look-see.

      As always, thank you Nancy…

  • Had to pop back in with one other thought I wanted to share. The National PTSD center which has a fantastic website, has some research showing that PTSD clients would PREFER therapy to drugs. So this could really be good. Thanks!