The Socratic dialogue


Socrates, the father of western philosophy, had a big influence on modern psychotherapy. He used questioning and dialogue between himself and his ‘patients’, as a way of helping them come to realize how their beliefs and ideas may be irrational and nonsensical. The therapeutic technique he used is called ‘the Socratic method’.  And it appears to be a very powerful method. How does it work? The cognitive therapist strives to use the question as often as possible. The therapist is modeling coping strategies by asking questions that expand a patient’s constricted thinking. These questions induce the patient:

  • to become aware of what his thoughts are
  • to examine them for cognitive distortions
  • to substitute more balanced thoughts, and
  • to make plans to develop new thought patterns

Bringing this back to the coaching arena: this is exactly what questions asked by a trained coach intend to do as well. We all go through our day assessing non-stop. We assess colleagues, relationships and challenges and we all think that our interpretation is the same as the next person’s. Wrong! Our assessments are not only influenced by our intuition but also by cultural and social influences, gender, age etc. Which make our assessments/opinions/beliefs very subjective. As we often take our assessments as “the truth” we create unnecessary stresses in our lives.

How to bypass this?
Back to the Socratic dialogue and getting to the questions to ask ourselves and define the evidence for our assumptions. First step is clarifying the standards we use to assess. Then finding facts that support our assessment. And finding facts that point to the opposite assessment. And then grounding our assessments. They will still be subjective but a lot of “emotional energy” has been taken out.

Why this emphasis on grounding our assessments?
Because if we do not pay attention, we might work from the wrong basis of assumptions and we might not create the results we so desire in our life…