Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Demonstration of the Socratic Method
in Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy
With a Depressed Man

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.

This document is the transcription of a demonstration given by Sophia de Vries, at convention workshop, working with Henry Stein who role-played a difficult client. 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. Stein.

(T = Therapist, C = Client, Role-Played by a Another Therapist)

C1-(Client has head on table, eyes closed.) (Long sigh, then silence.)

T1-Not quite rested? From yesterday?

[Client is trying to annoy therapist with passive withdrawal. The therapist deliberately misinterprets the gesture and shows the client he does not have the impact he seeks. His provocation does not work.]

C2-(Coming out of his hiding position speaking very slowly and drowsily.) Huh?

T2-What time did you go to bed?

[This logical question looks for the factor that would normally account for sleepiness.]

C3-Oh, umm..(Stretching out a vague delayed response.)

T3-Never mind, you don't have to tell me. You didn't want to tell me did you?

[Not waiting endlessly for his response, the therapist takes the initiative and tells him its O.K. to do what he doesn't really want to do, but won't admit. His hidden intention is also brought out into the open in the form of a question. It's no fun not to talk if the other person says its O.K. and sees through your ploy.]

C4-No. I'll tell you.(long pause)

T4-You said you were going to tell me?

C5-I don't remember, it was very late, I was up...I was umm, (long sigh, then very quickly) I had to clean the kitchen and I was cleaning all the grease off the stove, it took a very long time and nobody was helping me, and I was just working all night on it, I'm so exhausted. I don't know, I went to bed very late.

T5-Well, wonderful, you did a good job in cleaning up the mess.

[His depressed negative view is counteracted by the therapist's positive praise for the same activity.]

C6-(Loudly) Yeah, but nobody was willing to help, I had to do it all by myself.

T6-Well, don't you feel a little bit proud of yourself?

[The client continues complaining, but the therapist persistently suggests another potential positive in the same situation. He is being encouraged to feel differently about an action.]


T7-Yes, proud. That you did all of the cleaning?

C8-But I had to do all of it!! (Very rapidly) I mean why do I have to do all of it when the rest should be helping too? There are three persons living with me in this situation, they don't want to help, I have to do it all by myself. It makes me very angry!

T8-Have you ever tried asking them?

[The questioning focuses on specific actions that he may have omitted.]

C9-Oh, they wouldn't do it! Not these people, no, you can't talk to them.

T9-You can't talk to them? Have you tried? How often have you tried?

[His vague generalizations are countered with precise series of questions that uncover his lack of initiative.]

C10-(Pause) I don't want to talk about this.

T10-All right, what do you want to talk about?

[Modeling cooperation, the therapist backs off for the moment to avoid a power struggle. He is free to change the topic right now, but later his changes and evasions can be pointed out to him. This is not the right moment to do this.]

C11-My depression.

T11-What do you do with it?

[An elaboration is requested.]

C12-I have it!

T12-But have you tried to get rid of it?

[He is confronted with the responsibility for his symptom. He holds on to his symptom as a defense and challenges the therapist to dissolve it. The therapist puts the task back in his lap.]

C13-It comes on me and I don't know when its coming on me and I don't know how to get rid of it, and I've had it all my life. I'm tired of it.

T13-Isn't that why you're coming to me?

[His attention is drawn to his reason for coming to therapy. He is beginning to do something about it but he does not see the meaning of his early movements.]

C14-Well, why don't you help me with it?

T14-There are certain things we have to do together, you know? You can't do it alone and I can't do it alone. You have to talk about yourself and you have to tell me what depresses you so much.

[The task of cooperative work is emphasized, and his role is clarified. He is invited to offer concrete information.]

C15-Everything! (S-Oh) I hate myself, don't you understand, I hate myself!

T15-You hate yourself.

C16-Yes, I hate myself.

T16-Uh huh. And for what specific thing that you are doing do you hate yourself?

[He loves to throw out broad, dramatic statements. He is guided from the general to the particular. He likes to create big symptoms that elicit sympathetic responses. He gets a request for further information instead.]

C17-I don't know.

T17-That's a kind of a vague hating, isn't it? If I hate somebody, I really know why I hate him.

[A mirror is held up to his expression and vague reasoning. He is also offered a contrasting picture of clarity. This is a stimulating ploy with an intelligent, competitive client.]

C18-Why do you ask me so many questions?

T18-Don't you come here for a reason?

[Instead of just telling him that it's your job to question him and find out what's bothering him so much, he is offered a question that promotes his active thinking. He is a spoiled, passive person who wants everything served to him. He must come to the conclusion, with your clues, that you are doing what therapists are trained to do.]


T19-You want to get well, don't you?

[This is a very powerful question. He has not been cooperating, and we have to get him to change his direction. It is improbable that he will admit not wanting to get well. He likes the attention of a therapist, and the safety of fighting with one. If he says he does not want to get well, then his father might discontinue paying for treatment that isn't going anywhere. If he says he wants to get well, he will be faced with the contradiction of his movements. He has been led into a conceptual trap.]

(Long Pause)

You want to stay the way you are?

[He is given an alternative, simpler question, after he stalls with a strong confrontation. He can respond positively to this one because it seems harmless to him.]


T20-So a change is necessary.

[Now the logical implication of his previous answer is presented. He did not realize where the questioning would lead.]

C21-I would like to be very different. If I knew how to do it.

[He comes to this more positive conclusion himself.]

T21-Different is what we call "change".

[He envisions a magical transformation of being different. The therapist suggests the realistic process of doing something different.]

C22-But I don't know how to change.

T22-You also don't like me to give you advice. You want to do it all yourself, so I stay away from giving any advice.

[He likes to make they other person do all the work. He is inviting suggestions, which he will probably reject. Knowing his rebellious nature, the therapist uses this fact to put him in a corner. He is stuck with having to figure out what to do.]

C23-(angrily) I don't like anybody telling me what to do!

[He can't resist confirming his resistance.]

T23-No, I know that. So I obey you absolutely, I don't give you any advice. But you may have a suggestion, you're kind of bright, you know.

[He has been trapped into an open protest. Now it comes back to him in an unexpected way. He likes being in charge, and the use of the phrase "I obey you" is puts him in a bind. He cannot ask for suggestions. Now, it is time to encourage him to do his own thinking. We have to bait him with a positive quality he already possesses. He likes to think of himself as a genius.]

C24-What makes you think I'm bright?

[He bites the bait.]

T24-By the way you talk, and the way you answer questions, and the way you do things in general. You're bright. You know how to avoid giving an answer, and how to aggravate people, and you know a lot of things. That's kind of bright. Dumb people don't do that.

[He is offered a sugar-coated pill that has a bitter after-taste. He is faced with an interpretation of how he uses his brightness. He has been led into a trap that he cannot escape from. The use of the right bait keeps him on the track.]

C25-You think that's a sign of brightness, to aggravate people?

T25-Oh, sure! That's a way that you use it. I don't particularly think that people approve of the way you use it, but it is a sign of brightness. You could use the same brightness in a different way, you know?

[He is faced with the impact of his actions on others now. He is also encouraged to consider a different direction.]

C26-That's true. A lot of people are very annoyed at me.

T26-Uh huh. You like that?

[People generally do what they like to do. The therapist is verifying his feeling about provoking others. We want him to admit openly that he likes bothering people.]

C27-Sometimes I don't mind. It bothers me when my parents get annoyed at me because then I can't go visit them. And they won't let me visit every week!

T27-They won't let you visit every week. Now if I would be very annoying, would you like me to visit you every week?

[By turning his behavior around, and making him the recipient of it, he recognizes the normal social reaction. He has not thought these connections through. He only indulges in what he likes to do and expects others to respond according to his fantasies.]

C28-(weakly) I don't think so.

T28-No. So your parents are right, aren't they?

[He has been guided, by a series of questions, to the conclusion that his annoying behavior results in his parents not wanting to see him. He complained about their lack of interest, but never connected it to his behavior. His private logic only supports his right to do as he wishes. However, he does not give others that right. He presents his situation and problem. He blinds himself to what is normal if prevents him from attaining his ends. He is latently aware of what is normal social behavior. He expects it from others but feels that he is free of the same responsibility. This client wants his parents and the therapist to be helpful and considerate of his feelings and needs. He must gradually learn that he has to provide these qualities to others. He may not want to, but when he begins to see the real consequence of his actions, he may conclude that the price is too high to continue his lack of cooperation. His concept of social feeling is something that should come to him, to make him feel better. Our concept of normal cooperative behavior is that which is good for all concerned.]
(End of Demonstration)

This document is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced, in whole or part, without the expressed permission of Dr. Stein.

For Additional Information Contact:
Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., Director
The Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington
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Bellingham, WA 98226
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