Turning to Socrates
Researchers show how an approach the Greek philosopher inspired can help us with life’s hurdles.
Ask Daniel Strunk and Justin Braun to illustrate how all of us might benefit from the use of Socratic questioning and their demonstration seems to take no effort at all. They fall into an easy conversation, Strunk portraying a therapy client in the midst of a job search and Braun playing his therapist.
In reality, Strunk is an associate professor of psychology and Braun is pursuing his doctorate in clinical psychology. The two have worked together at Ohio State since Braun ’11, ’14 MA, was an undergraduate. Their focus: Socratic questioning — a core aspect of cognitive therapy that involves finding solutions by making the right inquiries — and how it can help those experiencing depression.
As it turns out, Socratic questioning (as Strunk and Braun demonstrate in this video) is a tool any of us can use when facing life’s challenges and setbacks. The idea is to think critically about our negative thoughts and beliefs, examining their accuracy and considering whether there is positive evidence we haven’t fully considered.
“I think it’s a really useful tool for overcoming ‘stuck points’ in our lives — whether that’s depression or other kinds of challenging situations,” said Strunk, who has conducted research on the topic for 16 years. “It’s something I use myself and think we all can benefit from when we’re in a difficult emotional situation, when we’re feeling stuck.”
Braun likes the idea of helping others question their negative thinking and assumptions. “I think you’re teaching them a skill that they can use for the rest of their lives and helping them work against their symptoms of depression and some of their negative thinking patterns,” he said.
Strunk’s mentorship has guided Braun, who first worked for the faculty member as an undergraduate responsible for data entry and other mundane tasks. Strunk has been there through Braun’s undergraduate and master’s theses and now as he works on his doctoral dissertation.
“This experience has really helped me to hone my research interest,” Braun said. “We focus on how different therapists’ behaviors might be related to outcomes in therapy. That’s where I see my focus going in the future — what the therapist can do to help the client see that symptom change.”
Up next: Strunk and Braun are looking into whether Socratic questioning helps certain people more than others, which is the focus of Braun’s dissertation. Once he completes his third Ohio State degree, Braun plans to work as a clinical psychologist while continuing to conduct research.