A technique called ‘Socratic questioning’ can help depressed people recover, a new study finds.
Socratic questioning is used by many therapists to help patients explore new perspectives on themselves and the world.
Mr Justin Braun, one of the study’s authors, said:
“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.”
Socratic questioning differs from ‘normal’ questioning by focusing on fundamental issues and concerns.
For example, if a patient feels their life is a failure because of a divorce, the therapist might ask:
- Is everyone who experienced divorce a failure?
- Can you think of anyone for whom that is not true?
- How does being divorced seem to translate into being a failure as a person for you?
- What evidence is there that you have succeeded, and thus not been a “total failure?”
Dr Daniel Strunk, another of the study’s authors, said:
“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.”
The study involved 55 patients who were followed over a 16-week course of cognitive therapy.
The sessions were taped and the researchers examined how much Socratic questioning each therapist used.
They found that more Socratic questioning led to more improvements in depressive symptoms.
Mr Braun explained how Socratic questioning can help:
“Patients are learning this process of asking themselves questions and being skeptical of their own negative thoughts.
When they do, they tend to see a substantial reduction in their depressive symptoms.”
Dr Strunk continued:
“We think that one of the reasons that cognitive therapy has such enduring positive effects is that patients learn to question their negative thoughts, and continue doing so even after the treatment ends.
They find out that they may be overlooking information that is contrary to their negative thoughts.
They often aren’t looking at the whole situation, positive and negative.”
The study was published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy (Braun et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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