Therapeutically, questions can be very useful. They can help us to explore issues in depth and so gain a better understanding of ourselves. Of course, it can be somewhat disconcerting to be bombarded with questions by a therapist. It can feel more like an interrogation than therapy. Indeed, when undergoing training, counsellors are taught to avoid asking too many questions and to use open questions (that require more than a yes/no answer) when they do.

This isn’t to say that questions are bad - far from it. The fact is, the most useful questions are the ones we ask ourselves; the questions that get us thinking about who we are and how are experiences have shaped us. Indeed, it is these sorts of questions about the self that often lead people to therapy. Whilst counselling and psychotherapy have been proven to help people overcome mental health difficulties, many engage in therapy not to fix but to explore themselves and gain a better understanding of who they are and why they do the things they do. This doesn’t happen by being asked questions by someone else, this happens by looking inwards and asking the difficult questions of ourselves. The therapist is someone who travels alongside the client on this journey and acts as a support when things get challenging. Although they may have an idea of where the client’s journey is going, they will not lead the way. An analogy I often use is that a therapist can show the client the door, but only the client can make the choice to walk through it.

When asking questions of ourselves as a means of self-exploration, we might make use of a dialectical approach known as the Socratic method. Developed by the classical Greek philosopher Socrates in the second half of the 5th century BC, the Socratic method requires the individual to ask a series of questions that do not just draw out a particular answer, but encourage deeper insight into the topic in question. In its simplest form, the Socratic method requires the individual to keep asking “Why?” Invalid or contradictory answers are dismissed and, in time, the respondent is forced to examine their core beliefs and the validity of such beliefs. Traditionally, this form of questioning would be conducted between two or more people but when engaging in a process of self-examination, we ask the questions and provide the answers ourselves.  

A quick search on the internet will bring up a number of sites and blogs that provide questions to start a journey of self-discovery. Here are a few questions that we can ask ourselves to get us started.

  • Who am I?
  • Who do I most closely identify with? What is it about these people that I cherish?
  • What do I value most in life? Why do I attach value to this?
  • How have the experiences of my past shaped who I am today? When did I become the person I am now?
  • Where am I going? How will my future self be different to my present self? How can I get to this point?

 

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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