Socratic questioning, exit counseling and unexamined beliefs

A technique some members of the psychology community prefer over deprogramming of a cult member is something called exit counseling. Basically it consists of having a respectful conversation with a cult member, having a probing conversation to examine and make them examine their own values and beliefs, offering them information that makes them question various unspoken beliefs about the religion they are part of, offering them info which shows their current beliefs violate their emotional values and helping them understand what emotional wounds drew them into the cult.

Steven Hassan has written about this, and examples of what he means are telling someone who is in the Moonies (which preach the evils of violence) is led by a man who had investments in an M-16 factory. Or examining what personal traumas led someone into a cult. The view is that if you dig up enough info that shows the logical beliefs to be contradictory and the emotional values unfulfilled by the current beliefs people will get confused, but eventually give up on the current beliefs because the inconsistencies, lack of evidence, contradictions and violations of deeply held values is too much cognitive dissonance to bear.

So basically it seems to be a fusion of the concept of unexamined personal beliefs (promoted by people like Ellis) with Socratic questioning. The goal is that if you can examine your beliefs and find they are logically unsound then you will abandon them.

What the hell is my point? I’m wondering if anyone does this on a regular basis. I kindof do, but not in a serious way. Does anyone regularly examine their own motivations and beliefs with probing questions the same way some people regularly clean their house?

I’ve been in and out of cognitive therapy a few times and one thing I learned early is that just realizing that your beliefs are unsound doesn’t help very much in getting rid of them. Otherwise we could treat all cases of phobia, trauma, depression in a short session.

But having said that I do re-examine my beliefs all the time. The other half of cognitive therapy is whether the belief is working for you. And some beliefs are more emotional than others. The less emotional beliefs are easy to give up when you realize they are wrong. For instance, I was just reading about a libertarian economist who was raised to be a “commie/liberal” and when he learned how dumb the ideas were he gave them up.

The introspective will always have a tendency towards wool gathering. But after you’ve been around the track a few times, your attention often turns to less foundational matters. Then again, professional philosophers make a habit of examining certain core questions.

What is the difference between fundamentals, strategy and tactics? Are those the layers? ie someone who is a good athlete (tactic) does it to impress his father (strategy) because doing so satiates his central need for approval (fundamental)?

What is a professional philosopher? Aside from professors I do not know of any who do it on more than an amateur level.

I probably should have just said “Philosophers”.

I suppose an example of a foundational question might be, “What makes a good life?” A strategic question is, “What sort of career (or career change) should I pursue?” Tactical questions might involve the nuts and bolts of your career or home life.

For a philosophy professor, “What makes a good life?” is a work-related question.

What the OP’s final question seems to be getting at is what I consider the modern “skeptic” philosophy - this philosophy holds that it is important to understand WHY you believe what you believe on matters that have impact on your life.

It was encountering this philosophy that drew me away from Christianity to atheism. As an academic and safety assessor I trust only knowledge supported by evidence (there are always limits to what counts as “evidence” when what one actually sees is reporting by others about the evidence, but the principle is sound) yet in my personal life I was believing things that could only be known about through revelation. The cognitive dissonance once I tried reconciling the different “ways of knowing” shattered by faith-based beliefs.

My interpretation is that it’s okay to believe things based on faith, or on evidence, or on what other people tell you about the evidence, but you should regularly examine the basis of beliefs in proportion to how important those beliefs are to you. Religious and moral matters go beyond life and death and I constantly question myself on those. Less so on the atheism since I am confident with my reasoning towards this conclusion, but rights, wrongs and goals are the subject of current enquiry.

From what I’ve heard, one characteristic of cults is that they encourage their newer members to break ties with family and friends outside the cult and restrict their social contact to cult members. It seems to me that the purpose of this is to protect new members from this kind of fundamental questioning precisely because such questioning reduces the chances that the new member will stay.

Personally, I’m introverted to the point of being reclusive and sometime fantasize about being a hermit and not having to deal with the problems that arise from dealing with other people. Was it Camus who said, “hell is other people”?

The reason I don’t think hermitage would be good for me is because other people (like people on message boards) ask me to consider my assumptions. Without that prodding, I’m afraid I’d start worrying about who killed Kennedy* and whether 9/11 was an inside job. I’ve even seen a friend explain the chemtrail conspiracy to someone else. As she was explaining it you could actually watch her start to see the questions she hadn’t asked herself before and before our eyes she was clearly starting to doubt the whole thing because of that.

  • when after all it was you and me