Demonstration of the Socratic Method
in Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy
With a Man Who Procrastinates
The Socratic method plays an integral role in Classical Adlerian
psychotherapy. In a climate of respect and diplomacy, the therapist is
able to secure relevant information, unfold insight, and promote new
solutions to problems. To appreciate the value and limits of the Socratic
method, it is necessary to place this strategy within the context of a
complete therapeutic process, one that addresses cognitive, affective, and
behavioral change. Two references provide this perspective: Classical Adlerian Theory and Practice and
Adler and Socrates: Similaries and
Differences. At the different stages of psychotherapy, eidetic and
guided imagery, or role-playing might also stimulate affective or
behavioral change. However, all of these strategies lead in the same
direction: the development of a deeper feeling of community.
document is the transcription of a demonstration given by Sophia de
Vries, working with a participant of a convention workshop. The
bracketed "[.....]" and indented process analysis is by Henry
Stein. This material is protected by copyright and may not be
reproduced or distributed without the expressed consent of Dr.
(T = Therapist, C = Client)
C1-I have problems with procrastinating.
T1-How do you feel about it yourself?
[We need to know how much this problem bothers him. He only
states his problem behavior. We don't know if it doesn't bother
him, if it irritates him, or if he hates it. The intensity of
his feeling about the problem has to be added to the complaint.]
C2-I do it. I wish I didn't do it.
T2-How does it make other people feel?
[We then check to see if he knows the impact of his problem
on other people.]
C3-It inconveniences them.
T3-Have you proof of that?
[Is he guessing, or have other people expressed their reactions
T4-Uh huh, and how do you feel about that?
[How does he react to the feedback of others? Does he take
their feelings and their inconvenience into consideration?]
C5-I dislike that very much, because I don't like to inconvenience
people, but it happens.
T5-Um hum, and yet you still don't know what to do about it, procrastinating?
You don't like to inconvenience people, you know you inconvenience
them, (P-yes) and, you haven't tried anything, to do about it?
[How strong is his motivation for change? Is he really ready
for change, or is he waiting for it to fall out of heaven without
any effort on his part? What has he done about it so far?]
C6-Uh, I've tried. I've often said, "You know, I must organize
myself, I must do these things", and then there are still
things left undone.
T6-So there must be something the matter with the organizing then.
[His motivation is good, but he may be lacking in insight or
knowledge. He doesn't seem to know what to do about this. Since
he does not get a good result, his organization may be faulty.]
T7-Well, let's find out. Is it a matter of time?
[We are now fishing for the factors that would contribute to
or take away from good organization.]
C8-No, its not a matter of time, because I spend time doing other
T8-You deviate from what you originally wanted to do?
[He uses a vague phrase, "doing other things". We
sharpen this movement for him by using a stronger word "deviate".
This helps him see more clearly the significance of his movement.
Clients frequently minimize the meaning of their unproductive
actions. We must bring their vision back into focus.]
C9-Uh, I guess so.
T9-If you spend time doing other things, do you want to do too
many things at once?
[This is a continued fishing for factors that contribute to
C10-Partly that. Maybe there's things that I enjoy doing more
than other things. I think it might be in that area.
T10-How do you feel about having a constant enjoyment?
[To find out what his expectations of life are, an intuitive
jump is made from his clue of "things that I enjoy more"
to an exaggerated absolute. Does he expect life to be pleasant
all the time? The phrase "constant enjoyment" is a way
to test an idea by enlarging it.]
C11-I'd like that.
[The guess hit pay dirt! Asking for a verification draws him
deeper into this line of thinking.]
T12-You don't think you would get sick and tired of it?
[He has been drawn into a trap. He nibbled the bait of admitting
an ideal that he has never examined critically. In a childlike
way he imagines a future paradise without an awareness of how
an adult would actually feel about living in it. By enlarging
a quality that seems harmless in its smaller scale we can dramatize
the beneficial or harmful implications.]
C13-Uh...by constant enjoyment I was thinking in terms of...that
things were organized so I didn't have a lot of things left over.
This is one of the things that stop me from enjoying - is having
jobs left undone.
[He feels caught in this exchange, and tries to side-step the
issue a little.]
T13-Yes, you talk about jobs left undone as if someone did it
to you...to leave them undone.
[His expression "having jobs left undone" is a little
impersonal. It is not taking full responsibility. He must see
that he is leaving work undone.]
C14-No, I leave them undone...
T14-You realize that you leave them undone.
[It is helpful to confirm an insight. Getting the person to
hear what they said from you and verifying its truth provides
a needed reinforcement of a correction in thinking.]
T15-So you do something to yourself that you dislike very much.
[Now a connection is made from the immediate insight of his
responsibility for a symptom, to his earlier expression of how
he feels about the symptom. This faces him with the logic of his
T16-Why would you have to dislike yourself so much? (Long pause.)
Have you been punished a lot as a little boy?
[First there is a search for the hidden reason behind this
action. When he does not respond with an explanation from his
present frame of mind, we explore associations from his past.]
C17-No, I don't think so.
T17-Why do you need that punishment - now?
[This is an unexpected jump using a very strong word, "punishment".
The intensification of a quality stimulates or provokes a person
to think more fully about it. They may deny or confirm the interpretation.
Either way you get more useful information. "Why do you need..."
is a very surprising question. It creates a new perspective on
a symptom. He has to make sense of what he is doing.]
C18-(long pause) ... I don't know, but that's an insight, "why
do I need the punishment now?"
T18-You're the only one who can answer that, you know? (pause)
You must be dissatisfied about yourself in one aspect or another.
[He avoids giving an answer, hoping it will come from the therapist
who puts the task back in his lap. Since he does not respond at
first, another logical question provides him with a general clue
to search deeper for a hidden feeling.]
C19-Yes, I am dissatisfied. I have expectations on myself that
I don't meet, and that makes me very dissatisfied.
T19-So, then let's go to the root of it... There are expectations
that you don't meet. There must be a reason for this.
[Now he is prompted to search for a hidden reason behind what
he tell you. You must help the person think deeply and thoroughly
about the root of his problem.]
C20-If there is I don't know.
T20-Is it lack of knowledge?
[He is stuck and needs some help. Providing him with a range
of probing questions helps him recognize or reject factors, and
then refine them. We want to help him think this through and reach
a useful conclusion.]
C21-No, not lack of knowledge, I know what I have to do.
T21-And it is not lack of time?
T22-So these two things...lack of effort, maybe?
[He is stuck in the middle of the problem. By working around
the perimeter logically, we eventually may hit on a factor that
he identifies with.]
T23-Uh hum, and how would you like to correct it?
[Having targeted the missing factor, now we need to know if
he is willing to do something about it. Is it important for him
to correct this now? Does he know how to correct it?]
C24-I guess what I'd like to do is put more effort into the things
that I know I should do.
T24-I hear you say, "I would like to put more time
into things that I would have to do." I would like...no
decision made yet of "I'm going to?"
[By listening carefully and taking the client literally, we
can find the cracks in his intentions. He has more of a wish than
an decision to put more effort into solving his problem. We want
to bring him closer to the doing, rather than just thinking and
T25-How much time would you like to take before you come to the
decision of - "I'm going to"? You can set a time limit,
you can take two years, you can take three years...
[He procrastinates and others generally want him to speed up.
You surprise him by doing the opposite of what he expects. You
exaggerate his procrastination and test his feeling about extended
it longer and longer. In a spirit of gentle playfulness you help
him see the foolishness of his tendency.]
C26-...or my lifetime.
T26-...or your lifetime! Yes, sure! ...Nobody pushes you. It's
only you who creates your own suffering.
[He does not see the impact of his symptom on himself. He hurts
himself with this problem, and must see the consequence of what
he has created. By guessing at the intensity of his hidden experience,
the therapist has faced him with a feeling that he has become
C27-And it is suffering.
T27-Oh yes, of course it is! So if you're pleased with suffering,
go right ahead, and continue what you're doing.
[By phrasing his suffering in an unusual and dramatic way,
he reacts more strongly. He may feel it is an absurd claim. The
technique called "pulling the pig's tail" is effective
at this point.]
C28-I don't want to.
T28-all right, then we have a contradiction, what are you going
to do about the contradiction?
[Now you face him with the tension of a contradiction. He says
he wants to get rid of a symptom, and yet he keeps it up. He has
been cornered conceptually. Leading another person into a trap
of self-contradiction is what Socrates did so skillfully.]
C29-(long pause).... I have said to myself many times, that I
don't want the contradiction, I'm going to do something about
it, but it doesn't get done.
T29-No, but "something" is such a vague thing, and if
I would say the same thing, then also nothing would get done.
You know? "Something" is vague. I have to make a decision
on what I am going to do about it. I have to make one small
decision on what am I going to do. (pause) Do you have an example
of procrastination in your life?
[He uses a vague, general word "something" and needs
to be confronted with a commitment to a concrete, specific decision.
The task is also reduced to a small, manageable step. Now we have
to attack the problem using a concrete example of his procrastination.
He is now ready to try a new approach.]
T30-No, just one. (Pause)... Getting up in the morning?
[He comes up with too much. The concept of "many"
is so much for him that he cannot do anything about it. The scale
of his thinking has to be reduced and the complexity simplified.
The new task cannot overwhelm him. We ask him for only one example
so that he can start somewhere. After waiting a moment for him
too offer an example, we start with the first action of his day,
getting up in the morning.]
T31-Well, mention one.
[He does not respond to the first question which is designed
to get him started, so once again he is encouraged to bring up
his own example. The therapist's question suggests a very simple
activity. This model may help him scale down his thinking at the
moment. He is offered some assistance in thinking, but he must
eventually take responsibility for the task.]
C32-My desk at school is very untidy, always. I clean it up but
very shortly it gets untidy with things that need doing.
T32-Yes, I hear you say "it" gets untidy. How can a
desk get itself...(P-I make it untidy!) (laughter) Oh,
now, now you're talking. "I like my desk to be clean and
I make it untidy".
[Careful listening is again important as the word "it"
suggests that he had no part in the problem. This magical thinking
has to be cleared up. In a playful way he is faced with his evasion
of personal responsibility and he accepts it in good humor. His
corrected statement is then reinforced immediately.]
T33-You are giving yourself punishment all the time.
[He needs to recognize the meaning of his repeated movements
of untidiness. The insight of self-punishment will bother him
and perhaps stimulate him to conquer the habit.]
C34-I guess so, that's a new idea.
T34-Why are you so angry at yourself, that you need punishment
for yourself? You are not used to this, you told me, from early
[The guess about anger is a logical connection to what he has
been doing. He does not say he is angry at himself, but he must
be if he hurts himself. The therapist guess at the hidden feeling
behind the action. Then the client is asked to think about the
hidden reason behind the feeling.]
C35-I don't know.
T35-But you do it anyhow. (P-yes) You think its worthwhile to
find out? (P-yes) and to think about it? (P-yes) Well, I think
that next time when I see you I would like you to come with an
answer. If you haven't found it we can talk about other things,
but in this respect we cannot go further on this subject until
you have found an answer, you have to come up with something.
I cannot give you a suggestion because you might fall for the
suggestion, and that wouldn't help you. Your ideas count for
you more than anybody else's.
[His motivation for deeper exploration has to be checked out.
Then he is encouraged to do some homework and challenged to bring
back an answer on his own. The cooperative working relationship
between client and therapist is clarified. He is not going to
be given answers, he will be encouraged to do his own thinking
and examine the results with the therapist. He will be left with
a questions to ponder until the next meeting.]
C36-So the question you're asking me that I should answer is "why
am I punishing myself?
T36-Yes, why do you like to punish yourself when you haven't had
that happen when you were young? Your parents didn't punish you,
and now that you are grown up, and you have your work, and you
are happy in your work, you want to punish yourself.
[This question of self-punishment is finally put into the perspectives
of his early childhood situation, and his current living situation.
It gives him a context for examining his actions.]
OK, is this giving you kind of an idea of what we are doing?
C37-I think so, thank you, and I have something to work on now,
and its a new idea.
C38-Yes. Thank you.
T38-OK. Thank you for participating.
(End of Demonstration)
[A few hours after the demonstration, the client came up to
the therapist and said, "I have thought a lot about this.
Now I don't have to do this any more." It was not necessary
to go any further with this issue. The purpose of the brief counseling
demonstration had been achieved. The client decided to give up
the symptom. If he goes in a different direction that adds to
his well-being, that can be enough for the moment.]
This document is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced, in whole or part, without the expressed permission of Dr. Stein.
Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., Director
Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington
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