What is guided discovery in CBT

New concepts can often feel overwhelming when we first start learning or trying different types of approach.

Commonly asked questions by people learning about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can include: 

  • What is guided discovery?
  • Is it about the therapist directing the client?
  • Is ‘Socratic dialogue’ the same thing as guided discovery?
  • How do I offer guided discovery?

What is guided discovery and how can it help?

Guided discovery can be one of the most beneficial interventions used within CBT. In a nutshell, guided discovery is a process that a therapist or counsellor uses to help their client reflect on the way that they process information. Through the processes of answering questions or reflecting on thinking processes, a range of alternative thinking is opened up for each client. This alternative thinking forms the blueprint for changing perceptions and behaviours.

Essentially, it could be suggested that a client approaching a CBT therapist is initially functioning at a mindless level. This is not to say that a client is ignorant or not able to think. Rather, that the client has a range of automatic cognitive processes that are being allowed to run without intervention. Some of these thinking processes may have been developed in childhood, while others may directly result from an immediate mood state.

A woman stares thoughtfully out of a window A useful analogy for guided discovery is to think about going to an optician’s for an eye test. The optician may initially put a contraption on their clients head with a range of lenses on it. Initially, their clients cannot see through this contraption very well (for example, what they perceive may be a blur). The optician then sets about gradually removing or replacing lenses. Through a process of trial, error and feedback from the client, each individual begins to see more clearly.

Guided discovery works in exactly the same way. Instead of using optical lenses, the CBT therapist helps the client use lenses of perception. Perceiving information is a different way allows each client to access a range of choices in their life, ostensibly, to see their life through different lenses. When we view life in a different way our emotional reaction to events also shifts. These types of continued conscious re-evaluations in CBT are very important because they lay the foundations of future ‘automatic thinking’ and make relapse less likely.

Why is guided discovery used?

Used by cognitive therapists, guided discovery is a two-way, collaborative process that can help clients learn to develop different interpretations of their problems. Through collaboration, this can assist in creating and fostering a positive therapeutic relationship, whilst getting clients to focus on not only the problem, but also the solution. 

Considered to be a productive way of helping clients to engage with and consider their unique problems or concerns, guided discovery in CBT does require a genuine interest from the therapist to understand their client’s point of view. 

Is guided discovery CBT right for me?

Now that you know more about guided discovery, it’s important to consider if it may be the right type of therapy for you. Learning more about what to expect from CBT can be a good next step. It’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach when it comes to seeking help and support. If one method doesn't work for you, there are many other approaches available. 

To find the right counsellor or therapist for you, use our advanced search to discover trained professionals offering in person, online, and  telephone sessions.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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