Socrates has a question for you…

photo by Eric Gaba
photo by Eric Gaba

which is weird because he’s dead.

Even so, his teachings still hold great value in treating anxiety, depression and a host of other issues.

The Socratic debate is something cognitive therapists use quite often in helping folks challenge thought distortions.  Questions driving the Socratic debate fall into six categories and are designed to push us away from certainty and towards curiosity and evaluation.  I’m not going to list all of the questions or categories here. I added a link at the end of the post to a page that goes through each category and lists examples of questions that can be asked.

I also posted a link to a sample thought record. A thought record is a tool that can be used in therapy to help folks identify:

1. The event(s) that trigger distress.

2. The emotions that make up the distress.

3. The automatic thinking (the initial conclusion(s)) we have as a result of the event.

4. Reasonable alternatives to our automatic thoughts

I’ll stop at #4 because that is where some folks get stuck and say “Well if I knew a more reasonable way of thinking about it, why the hell would I pay you?”

One way of determining whether a more reasonable way of thinking about a situation exists, is to engage in a process of self-dialogue that uses Socratic questions.  Next time you find yourself feeling highly anxious, angry, sad…”distressed” about something, step back and use the thought record to explore what’s really going on. In deciding whether a different way of “thinking about it” exists, use the questions contained in the Socratic Questions module.

Six types of Socratic Questions (University of Michigan)

Thought Record (pdf-PsychologyTools.org)

Friday’s Thought

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

The characteristics we want others to see in us are usually virtuous and noble.  Our desire to be viewed in this way is really a goal related to how we want to live our lives.  As with trying to achieve any goal, there are times when we (and everyone else) fail.  Socrates asked us to make our actions consistent with our ideal;  to act the part so who we want to be becomes a matter of habit-who we really are.  Acting differently than our own ideal doesn’t make us phony nor does it make the ideal irrelevant.  It simply means we are human and the thing we’re shooting for isn’t easy.

The bumper sticker version of this quote used in mental health and addictions is  “Fake it until you make it”; act opposite of your symptoms so that the parts of your life that hold meaning for you don’t fall apart.   Being successful here means building the evidence of acting separate and apart from your anxiety or depression; having proof that your symptoms don’t define who you are.