What is Socratic Questioning in Counseling?

Socratic Questioning in counseling, named after the ancient philosopher Socrates, is a valuable skill used within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The philosopher believed that the use of provocative questions could both challenge client’s unhealthy understandings of their world and of themselves. For clients stuck in a singular way of thinking, Socratic questioning might be the best approach in helping them explore other points of view and achieve a larger understanding of their situation. Keep reading to learn more about how Socratic Questioning in counseling is applied today.

Defining Socratic Questioning:

Socratic questioning in counseling, also known as Socratic Dialogue, is a form of open questioning between therapist and client. This method of inquiry has been used by professionals in many different settings to focus on communication and the gathering of data. In counseling, this style of questioning enables a provider to better understand their client’s level of thinking, explore the client’s thought processes, and grow their comprehension outside of their original starting point. It is an effective way to dive into ideas in detail and can be applied at all levels, helping all age groups.

What is the Purpose of Socratic Questioning in Counseling and CBT?

The purpose of Socratic questioning in counseling as it applies to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is not to influence or change a client, but to guide them into greater understanding. The purpose is to partner with them through discovery. Providers should ask questions that their clients already know the answer to. They should draw the client’s attention to information that is relevant to the issue being discussed, yet leads them away from their current focus. Lastly, the provider can help a client move from the concrete concepts to the abstract concepts so that they can apply new information and reevaluate their previous conclusion regarding an idea. Guided discovery is the concrete goal of Socratic Questioning in counseling. The goal expands to the client utilize new information and apply it to their life.

Stages of Questioning

Asking Informational Questions

The start of the questioning process should begin with inquiries that the client already knows the answers to. These informational questions are meant to reveal and collect data about the client’s situation. The revelation of helpful information can help the therapist better understand the client and the direction in which they might head. Therapists should be careful not to get a predetermined idea of the direction of the session. This can quickly cause the session to transition from Socratic questions to leading questions. The goal of Socratic Questioning in counseling Fis to guide the client in their own discoveries and not where you want them to end up as their therapist.


Questioning is worthless to someone who is not willing to listen to the answers. The second stage of Socratic Questioning in counseling is for the provider to listen. As answers are revealed, a path is uncovered. Each answer reveals the next question you will ask to guide the client in self-discovery. If a therapist is thinking too many questions ahead, the client’s answers begin to matter less and the sessions become about what the provider wants for the client versus where the client could lead themselves. By listening to each answer with an open ear, you can more effectively tie each question

together and discover the unexpected. An important thing to remember when applying Socratic Questioning in counseling is that listening is more than just hearing the words a client is saying. It also includes their emotions, their cadence, their pauses, and other unspoken details that help you understand them.


Summarizing is an essential component of Socratic Questioning in counseling. As humans, it is easy to make inferences regarding what someone is telling us. When a client responds to a question, it is tempting for a provider to make their own inferences regarding the client’s mental and emotional state. Summarizing is the practice of repeating back to the client what you believe you heard them convey and asking clarifying questions to broaden your understanding of their responses. This part of Socratic Questioning in counseling is key to making sure the client and therapist are on the same page before moving forward.

Synthesizing or Analytical Questions

Once information and data have been gathered, meanings have been uncovered, and summaries have been communicated, the next thing a therapist should do is ask synthesizing/analytical questions. This step in Socratic Questioning in counseling allows a provider to apply new information to the client’s original standpoint. This helps them understand where they stand now that the questioning is complete. Now that all of the details have been discussed, where are they now? This gives the client an opportunity to reflect on the discoveries they have made.

Things to Avoid When Using This Method


One thing that is astonishingly significant for therapists to remember during Socratic Questioning in counseling is never to debate. A client’s opinions, emotions, and answers are never up for debate. It is your job as the therapist to take the answer the client has given you and guide them to the natural next step in their understanding. Wherever that may be.


The conclusion the client reaches might be different than the one you hoped they would arrive at. This is ok and is encouraged during Socratic Questioning in counseling. It is not the job of the therapist to dispute or challenge the conclusion a client has come to. If the client wishes to continue exploring a particular topic, that is their decision, not yours.

Benefits of Socratic Questioning in Counseling

Ultimately, Socratic Questioning in counseling promotes independent thinking, ownership over one’s emotions, opinions, and conclusions, as well as perspective over one’s situation. It is a powerful tool in CBT that providers all over the world use to help their clients.

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