Anyone close to me knows that although I do not claim to know everything, I hate being wrong. If a question is asked of me, I like to have the answer ready and on the tip of my tongue. When I saw a good friend of mine recently for lunch, he proclaimed to me how his life had forever changed thanks to the Socratic method. For those unfamiliar, the classic Socratic Method uses creative questioning to deconstruct and discard preexisting ideas, so that the respondent to these questions rethinks their original statement. The goal is to increase understanding through inquiry. Basically, if you think you knew something; you don’t. Socrates felt this to be a blessing because the person who thinks they know already, cannot think and therefore, cannot know.
My first experience with the method was in my Philosophy 111 class in freshman year of college. We began with Plato’s Symposium, which introduced the Socratic method within the context of a discussion between notable philosophers (Socrates among them) of that time in Greece. My understanding of the method was like that of a lawyer cross examining the witness to break down their testimony and expose the truth. It also reminded me of many a childhood argument with my father, who had a knack for taking whatever I felt strongly about and making it seem senseless.
Upon hearing my friend’s statement, I was intrigued to know the how and why of this change. Enter a form of psychotherapy known as Classical Adlerian. This form of therapy, developed by doctor and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler, influenced the latter approach of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used today. It identifies the individual’s private life “plan” explaining its self-defeating, useless and predictable aspects, and encourages a shift of interest away from self-significance to self-responsibility and social-communal awareness. His therapeutic technique is broken down into 12 stages, all of which are heavily influenced by the Socratic Method. In the early stages, questions are asked of the client to gather information, clarify meaning and the feelings being expressed. Then, in the middle part, more penetrating, leading questions are asked to uncover the client’s personal logic, unconscious goals and hidden feelings. The social and personal implications of their feelings, thoughts and actions are explored, (both in short and long term consequence) and new options are generated through this use of the Socratic method. Everything divulged is reexamined and evaluated to help the client take steps in a different direction of their own choosing. In the latter stages of therapy, the Socratic method is used to evaluate the impact of the client’s new direction and to contemplate a new philosophy of life. The Socratic style places all the responsibility in the lap of the client. The role of the therapist is not that of a superior expert, but of a “co-thinker” helping the client arrive at a new way of living. (SOURCE: http://www.adlerian.us/theoprac.htm)
Here’s an example of this method of questioning at work, Adlerian style:
Client: “My wife doesn’t love me. She never gives me what I want”
Therapist: “Is your idea of love only giving you what you want? What if what you want is not good for you. Should your wife then give you what is unhealthy for you? Is that really being loving of her?”
Client presents a list of symptoms that is keeping them from moving forward in life. Symptoms may serve as excuses for avoiding something that the client is not doing. The therapist asks the question: “If you did not have these symptoms, what would you do?” The client’s answer is often quite revealing about what he/she is avoiding.
Inspired by my friend’s proclamation, I sat down and wrote a list of personal “truths” which govern the way I conduct myself in life, both socially and personally. I found that my “truths” in written form felt like they no longer belonged to me, but had been written by someone else. I could examine and pick apart these words on paper with a lot less ego than say, if the ideas were still doing their turns in my head. This brings me back to my original statement: I do not claim to know everything, but I hate being wrong. I can imagine Socrates’ first question being, “What does it mean to know?” or “How do you define wrong vs. right?” Hours of self-examination may be ahead, but worth every neural pathway formed.
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