As legacies go, Socrates has left us a very big one. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in clinical psychology. Socratic reasoning goes to the heart of cognitive-behavioural therapy as even the greenest therapist knows.
What is striking by its absence, however, is an appreciation amongst many therapists of the fact that Socrates was not concerned primarily with mere logic. He was concerned with truth, something he would have considered much bigger than – say – sound argument. And the need for truth or ‘truthfulness’ echoes into the current age as loudly as at any time since Socrates’ death over 2400 years ago.
Socrates’ main concern was that each of us should take our behaviour seriously, so seriously in fact that our very soul might be at stake. Whether we now see that in religious terms or not, Socrates’ point is that we should not simply conform to received wisdom – be that from religious or political leaders – but think for ourselves. Doing what is logical, doing what is popular or sensible is meaningless if we have no sense of why we are doing it. And to know the truth is not merely to apply reason: it is to look inwardly, to examine oneself.
When we imagine and set up mental health services in the modern world, we should have less of a concern for giving our patients the tools they need to change the way they think in keeping with one particular model of health or another. We should take more time to enable them to arrive at what we might now think of as their own truth and to act as befits their own ‘soul’.