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ADLER AND SOCRATES: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

By Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.


(Originally published in INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY, !l "#$%, &une '((') C!pyrigh*
'(() +e,published !n *he Al-red Adler Ins*i*u*e !- N!r*h.es*ern /ashing*!n .eb si*e a*
www.Adlerian.us ) 0his 1a*erial 1ay n!* be 2!pied, published, !r dis*ribu*ed .i*h!u* *he
e3pressed 2!nsen* !- Dr) S*ein, e,1ail$ h*s*ein4a**)ne*, *el$ (567 6"#,86#9)7
Introductory Re!r"#
Upon discovering the Socratic method in Plato's writings Benjamin
Franklin wrote:
I was charm'd with it, adopted it, dropt my abrpt contradictions and
positive argmentation, and pt on the hmble in!irer and dobter
"Binder, #$%&'(
)his paper will provide a brie* overview o* the art o* Socratic +style+
!estioning, as sed by ,l*red ,dler, ,le-ander .eller, and Sophia de /ries(
Its prpose is to re0awaken a clinical interest in ,dler's original, creative
therapetic approach(
Ad$er%# Ther!&eutic Techni'ue
,dler's philosophy and theory o* personality is well docmented in his
writings( ,dler demonstrated his therapetic approach1 he did not write abot it
at length( )he people who stdied with him learned his style o* treatment by
observing him and absorbing it *irst hand( 2e insisted that ,dlerian
psychotherapy had to be creative, that it cold not be made into a system or
procedre(
.any therapists, stdents, and niversity pro*essors are not aware o* the
original ,dlerian approach( 3ne reason is that most o* ,dler's writings have been
ot o* print *or some time and his two most important clinical works, )he
4erotic 5onstittion and )he )heory and Practice o* Individal Psychology, are
very poorly translated( )he other reason is that the classical ,dlerian techni!e o*
psychotherapy has not been comprehensively docmented or widely
demonstrated(
So&hi! de (rie#. Sophia de /ries is an ,dlerian psychotherapist with
over *i*ty years o* clinical e-perience( She stdied with ,l*red ,dler, ,le-ander
.eller, and 6ydia Sicher( , *aith*l *ollower o* ,dler, she is one o* the *ew
living athorities on ,dler's original creative therapetic style(
I started stdying with de /ries in #$7#( She practiced a very creative and
pro*ond *orm o* ,dlerian psychotherapy which she learned directly *rom ,dler
and .eller( In her opinion, ,dler's work needed no improvement, only accrate
demonstration and docmentation( She challenged me to stdy, analy8e, and
describe what had become an nconscios art *or her( It looked e**ortless, simple,
and logical( It was not easy *or me to penetrate this spontaneos art and nveil its
hidden strctre(
T)e$*e St!+e# o, P#ychother!&y. .y *irst task was a comprehensive
analysis o* the complete process o* ,dlerian psychotherapy as Sophia practiced it(
)his led to the de*inition o* twelve stages: empathy0relationship, in*ormation,
clari*ication, encoragement, interpretation and recognition, knowing, missing
e-perience, doing di**erent, rein*orcement, social interest, goal0redirection, and
spport and lanching( , brie* article giving an overview o* the stages was
pblished in the 9ne, #$:: isse o* Individal Psychology(
-#e o, .ue#tionin+. 3ne aspect o* de /ries' techni!e was perpetally
*ascinating( She sed !estioning, not only to gain in*ormation, bt also to
nravel insight( ;radally, step0by0step, she led her clients to make conclsions
abot what they were doing and what they shold be doing in li*e( )he
conclsions were *re!ently not coming *rom her, bt *rom the client as a reslt
o* her !estions( )he client was not a recipient o* the therapist's interpretation,
advice, or wisdom, bt an active participant in the search *or insight(
)his co0thinking really captres the philosophy and spirit o* a classical
,dlerian dialoge( It re*lects ,dler's original warm, diplomatic, cooperative
approach( It bridges the domains o* ,dlerian theory, philosophy, and practice(
Insight is gained gently and respect*lly throgh a series o* leading !estions(
.istakes and their conse!ences are ncovered gradally, and the clients are
invited to move away *rom their li*e styles, toward common sense and social
enlightenment(
In this approach, the therapist does not play the role o* the e-pert or the
athority who +knows it all(+ )here is no procedre or systematic way to n*old
this process( <ach new !estion is based on the client's previos answer or
statement( 2owever, the therapist mst have an idea o* what direction wold
yield the most se*l in*ormation, clari*ication, or insight( I* the therapist *rames
an insight in the *orm o* a statement, clients can easily *eel provoked to overt or
covert resistance( Presenting interpretation as a !estion provides clients with an
easier path o* re*sal, i* they are not ready *or the new idea( , se!ence o*
narrowing !estions can logically move *rom general and abstract ideas to
speci*ic and concrete applications( Since clients ltimately make the conclsions,
there is a better chance they will take action( )his therapetic !estioning
techni!e is derived *rom the Socratic method(
Socr!te# !nd Ad$er
+=now thysel*+ means +think *or yorsel*+ ".eyer, #$:&'( Socrates made
people think more deeply abot the implicit premises behind their statements( 2e
e-plored opinions and clari*ied meanings( )hrogh a series o* !estions he
*re!ently led the other person into a contradiction o* a previos answer( ,
jdgment o* error was not imposed or dictated by a sperior partner, bt mtally
arrived at by admission and agreement "<pstein, #$:#'(
/ener!$ Sii$!ritie#
)here are signi*icant similarities in the character, goals, and interpersonal
styles o* Socrates and ,dler( I believe that they were corageos, very social, and
committed to searching *or trth throgh reason( )hey helped others nderstand
their vales and belie*s, and consider vales that had niversal meaning( )hey
had tact, wisdom, hmility, elo!ence, and patience( )hey valed *reedom,
responsibility, corage, and inner integrity( )hey had the ability to see hmor and
irony in sitations(
Le*e$in+ Po)er. Socrates went a*ter pompos athority *igres who,
into-icated with power, assmed they knew the trth( 2e helped them see their
ignorance ".eyer, #$:&'( ,dler *ollowed a parallel line with his patients( 2e
nveiled their striving *or power over others and their e-aggerated *ictional sel*0
importance( 2e helped them see that their mistakes were rooted in a de*icient
social interest(
Hidin+ In#i+ht. Socrates and ,dler hid their insight behind !estions to
make their sbjects think *or themselves and search *or a deeper trth( 4either
took the role o* a mentally sperior athority who aggressively pointed ot the
mistakes o* others, nor did they provide others with ready0made answers( )hey
modeled cooperation in the role o* a warm, gentle, hmble co0thinker who
stimlated others throgh skill*l and sometimes play*l !estioning to do their
own thinking and reach their own conclsions(
L!tent 0no)$ed+e. Socrates' !estioning gradally revealed nreali8ed
knowledge that the others did not know they possessed ",ngeles, #$:#'( ,dler
nveiled the private, *ictional ideal o* a client and compared it to the social ideal
o* common sense( ,dler helped clients discover that the social interest,
cooperation, and contribtion *rom others bene*ited them and that they were
responsible *or reciprocating( )he clients had some awareness o* the need *or
cooperation in li*e, bt did not *eel obligated i* it con*licted with their personal
goals(
Lo) Pro,i$e. Socrates played the role o* the hmble in!irer, rather than
the prosecting attorney( 2e even pretended to be ignorant to sedce others into
playing his game "Bedell, #$:&'( ,dler *elt and e-pressed a genine e!ality with
his clients( 2e had no need to win a contest or prove his speriority( 2e also had
a keen sensitivity to his impact on an insecre, discoraged person( 2is manner
has been described as being like a kindly, old grandmother(
Root# !nd Con#e'uence#. Socrates and his partner discssed the
meaning and implications o* ideas, and the gronds *or belie*s "Bedell, #$:&'( 2e
e-amined people's assmptions to get at the core o* their belie*s( )he root
prespposition o* the Socratic method is that ideas have conse!ences "Fishman,
#$:>'( ,dler wold e-plore the personal and social conse!ences o* a client's
actions( 2e wold trace a style o* li*e back to the childhood prototype( 2e also
wold project a tendency into the *tre and consider the long0term reslts o*
actions(
/ener!$ Di,,erence#
Mutu!$ Re+!rd. Socrates held it essential that the participants share a
regard *or each other which might be called love or *riendliness( In!iry had to
be mtal( 2e called his art +intellectal midwi*ery,+ helping a person bring an
idea to birth "<pstein, #$:#'( ,dler did not enjoy this *riendly enconter with a
client at the beginning o* treatment( 2e gradally had to teach the client to
cooperate and sally had to deal with the client's tendency to depreciate a
therapist( ,ny progress in therapy was a reslt o* the increased cooperation
between him and the client( ,dler provided the encoragement and challenge1 the
client did most o* the work(
Ar+uent. Socrates wold arge ntil he secred a logical admission o*
ignorance "Bedell, #$:&'( ,dler wold *re!ently let people go in a wrong
direction ntil they +hit their head against the wall(+ )hen ,dler wold !estion
them abot how they got there(
Di!$ectic!$ Method. )he classical techni!e involved several *actors:
elaborating a point with !estions to a logical conclsion or generali8ation,
*inding real de*initions o* things, and making others admit a series o* points so
that their acceptance led to an inconsistency with what they believed ",ngeles,
#$:#'(
)he method o* playing o** one argment against the other is the heart o*
the dialectical method( ,rgment and conter0argment prodces a dialoge
between competing argments( ?ialectic is prely rational and intellectal( It
tests the ade!acy o* a position by making sre that its weak point is e-posed( It
implies a critical attack on the original position "Bedell, #$:&'(
,dler's approach was not to arge with a client( 2e helped them see that
the con*lict was between their private logic and common sense( 2e sed
*riendliness, warmth, caring, and empathy to win them over emotionally( ,
prely logical argment or the nveiling o* mistakes wold not have elicited core
psychological change( ,dler sed encoragement rather than argment( 2e *irst
bilt clients p and helped them make steps in a new direction be*ore discssing
their *alts(
/o!$#. Socrates' style was based on hmility, irony, and *n( 2owever,
he cold be a distrbing *orce, especially to individals who were so absoltely
sre o* their knowledge( 2is goal was to wake people *rom their dogmatic
slmber so that they wold *ace their ignorance and search *or trth "Bedell,
#$:&'(
,dler approached his clients with hmility, irony, and occasional
play*lness( 2e cold also be distrbing to people who were cocky, dogmatic,
and arrogant( 2is goal was primarily to change the clients' way o* *nctioning,
not jst their thinking( ,wareness o* mistakes or admitting ignorance was not
enogh( ,t times, he wold consider it s**icient i* people changed their attitde
and behavior, even i* their insight was not sbstantial(
Conc$u#ion
)he Socratic method is one aspect o* classical ,dlerian psychotherapy that
needs to be clari*ied, docmented, and demonstrated( ,*ter seventeen years
o* taping, transcribing and analy8ing discssions, demonstrations, and case
interpretations with Sophia de /ries, I have *inally evolved a strctre *or
describing this art( )he adio0tape stdy program, 5lassical ,dlerian
Psychotherapy: , Socratic ,pproach, incldes a comprehensive analysis o*
Socratic !estioning, strategies, techni!es, and transcribed case demonstrations
"Stein, #$$&'(
,dler reminded s that the sccesses o* psychotherapy shold be
attribted to clients( Socratic !estioning provides an appropriate and e**ective
method in ,dlerian psychotherapy *or leading clients away *rom their li*e styles(
)he path toward common sense is paved with their own conclsions(
Re,erence#
,dler, ,( "#$%@'( )he practice and theory o* individal psychology( )otawa, 4(9: 6ittle*ield,
,dams A 5o(
,dler, ,( "#$%B'( )he nerotic constittion( Freeport, 4(C: Books *or 6ibraries Press(
,ngeles, P( "#$:#'( ?ictionary o* philosophy( 4ew Cork: Barnes and 4oble Books(
Bedell, ;( "#$:&'( Philosophi8ing with Socrates( Dashington: University Press o* ,merica, Inc(
Binder, F( "#$%&'( <dcation in the history o* western civili8ation( 6ondon: )he .acmillan 5o(
<pstein, D( "#$:#'( )he classical tradition o* dialectics and ,merican legal edcation( 9ornal o*
6egal <dcation, @#, EBE0E>#(
Fishman, <( "#$:>'( 5onteracting misconceptions abot the Socratic method( 5ollege )eaching,
@@, #:>0#::(
.eyer, .( "#$:&'( ?ialectics and !estioning: Socrates and Plato( ,merican Philosophical
Farterly( #%, B:#0B:$(
Stein, 2( "#$::'( )welve stages o* creative ,dlerian psychotherapy( Individal Psychology( EE,
#@:0#E@(
Stein, 2( "#$$&'( 5lassical ,dlerian psychotherapy: a Socratic approach( San Francisco: ,l*red
,dler Institte o* San Francisco( ,dio0tape stdy program(
Bio+r!&hic!$ D!t! "#$$#'
Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., ?irector o* the ,l*red ,dler Institte o* San Francisco, was trained by
Sophia de /ries and ,nthony Brck, both o* whom stdied with ,l*red ,dler( 2e is crrently
working on a project to *lly docment and demonstrate classical ,dlerian psychotherapetic
techni!e( Seventeen years o* adio0taped discssions, demonstrations, and case analysis with
Sophia de /ries are being transcribed and edited( ?r( Stein is also mobili8ing a task *orce to
promote a revival o* classical ,dlerian theory and practice( )he projects inclde pblication o*
the collected works o* ,l*red ,dler, and the selected writings and lectres o* 6ydia Sicher,
,le-ander .eller, Irwin De-berg, ,nthony Brck, and Sophia de /ries(
-&d!ted Bio+r!&hic!$ D!t! 123425
?r( Stein is the director and senior training analyst at the ,l*red ,dler Institte o* 4orthwestern
Dashington, o**ering distance training in 5lassical ,dlerian ?epth Psychotherapy( 2e edited
the #B0volme C!lle2*ed Clini2al /!r:s !- Al-red Adler, now available in print and e0book
*ormats( For additional in*ormation, visit ))).Ad$eri!n,u# or contact ?r( Stein at
htsteinGatt(net(