Researchers from the Ohio State University claim that, therapists might be able to successfully treat depression with an approach opposite to that of widely accepted treatment, i.e. – asking questions instead of providing answers might be the key. The study analyzed how cognitive therapy led to positive outcomes, which primarily is the first to demonstrate that ‘Socratic questioning’ showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depression.

Cognitive Therapy Vs. Socratic Questioning

Cognitive therapy; also, termed as evidence-based treatment; helps in minimizing the symptoms and prevents such episodes in the future. Co-author Daniel Strunk, Associate Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University stated that various studies were aimed at how a strong relationship between the therapist and patient could possibly lead to positive therapeutic results?

New Technique To Treat Depression Patients

Justin Braun, co-author and a Doctoral Student in Psychology at The Ohio State University explained that patients suffering from depression tends to obsess with a negative view point. Socratic thinking, as a therapeutic technique, allows the patient to evaluate his or her negative thoughts and achieve a much broader and a realistic perspective.

According to the study featured in the journal Behavioral Research and Therapy, Socratic approach comprises of a set of evaluative questions asked by the therapist to help the patient consider new viewpoints about themselves and their existence in this world.

The Study: Putting Socratic Questioning To The Test

The study enrolled 55 patients at the Ohio State Depression Treatment and Research Clinic. They were to receive a 16-week treatment of cognitive therapy. The patients had to fill in a questionnaire before each session which measured the extent of their symptoms. Via video recordings of the first three sessions, researchers determined how often therapists used Socratic questioning.

It was observed that, far greater improvements in symptoms were seen in sessions where therapists used more Socratic questioning techniques – above and beyond the variable of therapeutic relationship evaluated in most of the previous studies.

“Patients are learning the process of asking themselves questions and being skeptical of their own negative thoughts”, explained Braun. “In doing so, they tend to see a substantial reduction in their depressive symptoms”. Re-evaluating and challenging thoughts such as ‘I am a complete failure’ and ‘life isn’t worth living’ help patients visualize the flaws in their thinking.

A Possible Change In Treatment Strategies

Researchers think that the therapy has such an enduring positive effect as it teaches patients to question and challenge their negative thoughts – even after the therapeutic sessions are over. It allows them to consider both sides of a situation, positive and negative, including areas which they possibly might have been over-looking.

The team is continuing their research at the Depression Treatment and Research Clinic with new participants. One of their goals is to characterize which patient would benefit the most from Socratic questioning so that effective treatment may be devised.