From Logotherapy Institute blog

Elevate Your Practice: Harnessing the Power of Socratic Dialogue

It was a dark day for the man as he turned to Viktor Frankl for support. The man’s wife had just died, and after many long years of marriage, how he felt inside must have seemed unbearable. But at that moment, Frankl asked a powerful question that helped the man heal.

What was it?

Frankl said, “What would have happened if you had died first?”

The man was taken aback by his question. After redirecting his attention away from himself and his grief and imagining how hard it would be for his wife to feel what he was feeling, he said to Frankl, “Oh, it would have been too much for my wife to bear.”

And with that, Frankl continued, “You see, she has died first, and you have spared her this suffering.”

His words profoundly comforted the man because he found meaning in the unbearable. He saw that his sacrifice was sparing his wife the pain that he died first. With the discovery of the meaning of the situation, he was able to bear the burden of the grief.

Now, many therapists, counsellors, and coaches use the practice of asking the right questions and helping others uncover hidden truths. It’s called Socratic dialogue and has been practiced since its founder, Socrates, roamed Athens and inspired people to question their motives, ideas, and what was true. However, this approach is used in logotherapy to discover our lives’ hidden meanings, challenges, and what life expects of us.

Socratic dialogue can sometimes be confronting and sometimes even outright challenging, as it invites individuals to question their worldviews. This is probably why it is so empowering and effective: When we have a faulty view of how things work, we keep doing what’s not working, yet when we see clearly, everything changes for the better.

As we see with the man in the story, once his worldview of seeing himself as the victim was challenged, he was transformed and able to face the pain more gracefully.

Moreover, the true beauty of Socratic dialogue is that it helps us get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves, our inner wisdom, or, in other words, our conscience, which always knows the right response to all our challenges. However, while we all have the inner wisdom to know the right response in any given moment, in those times of grief, challenge, or deep despair, it’s hard to see clearly and know what we must do when life tests us.

And that’s the gift of working with a practicing logotherapist. As one logotherapist once said, the logotherapist’s work is to help facilitate a conversation with our conscience;in other words, they help us facilitate a conversation with life. 

Because with the right question, at the right moment, with someone holding a space of complete acceptance, it is so much easier to see clearly, move past our confusion, doubts, despair, and see the deeper meaning of a situation.

So the next time you or your client struggles to find the meaning of a challenging situation, pause for a moment and ask a powerful question such as:

What is life asking of me? What deeper purpose could this challenge be inviting me to? Or, What’s the hidden gift here?

Sit in silence, listen, and let life instruct you.

With meaning,


P.S. If you want to learn more about Socratic dialogue and other logotherapeutic practices to support you or your clients in living a more meaningful life, check out our upcoming training by clicking the link here!

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