Nowadays the main and most fundamental ideas of dialogical practices are being applied by professionals in many different fields and contexts. The roots of dialogical practice stem not only from family therapy but also from philosophy and the theory of literature.   

„The first thing the newborn baby learns after the first breath is becoming a participant in the dialogue”, says Jaakko Seikkula, the Finnish psychotherapist.

The approach is based on the conviction that dialogue is the essential condition of our life

We need to be in contact with others from our birth. We need to be heard, understood and responded to by other people. According to dialogical practices, the nature of dialogue is perfectly authentic.

To be born means to enter the dialogue, to live means to be in the dialogue, to die means to leave the dialogue.

The theory about dialogue extends back to the author Fyodor  Dostoevsky

The dialogical approach has been born in various fields of human knowledge. Dialogical theorists often turn to Michail Bachtin, a Russian literary critic and analyst of Dostoevsky’s novels. There are three key principles of Bachtin valuable for the social science:

  • Dialogism: as the opposite to monologism (single-thought discourse). The dialogical word is always in an intense relationship with another’s word. It is addressed to a listener and anticipating a response. Human consciousness is not a unified entity, but rather, is always conflict-ridden between different consciousnesses. Indeed, a single consciousness separate from interaction with other consciousnesses is impossible.
  • Polyphony: All voices of engaged people are included in every life situations whether these people are physically present or not. We can reach understanding when we successfully invite and engage all participating persons who share their view and listen to others.
  • Responsiveness:  There is nothing worse for human life than the lack of response. Dialogical practice works with reflexions that confirm: I can hear you and this is how it affects me.

Family and systemic therapy develops the approach further

Systemic and family therapeutic origins have been always taken into consideration not only the client but also the system of relationship in which one lives. That is why Dialogical Practice is unique in its ability to invite to dialogue more than one side and voice (compared to other approaches).

The beneficial impact of this approach can be seen clearly in the more complicated and difficult situations, for instance when multiple professionals are needed to work with one family.

In dialogical point of view all relevant persons can be invited to the common meeting, such as family members, closest friends, to social workers, mediators, doctors or children’s teachers.

Psychologists, doctors and psychotherapists from all over the world come to spread these thoughts

The remarkable theorist of this approach was British psychologist John Shotter who related to Michail Bachtin and psychologists Lev Vygotsky and Valentin Vološinov to philosophers Giambattista Vico and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He linked their theories with the real world of health care, social work and systemic therapy.

He had a very close working and personal relationships with the main representatives of dialogical practice until his death in 2017.

Tom Andersen, Norwegian doctor and family therapist, created the concept of the “reflecting practice”. He was one of the first experts who brought the idea that all our experiences leave a sign in our bodies.

The Finnish therapist Jaakko Seikkula followed Anderson’s work and has become well-known particularly for his Open Dialogue approach. He and his team successfully help people in crisis with psychotic symptoms. Open Dialogue treatment was applied to patients in Western Lapland and between 1985 and 2005 the number of new cases of schizophrenia decreased from 33 to 2-3. In two thirds of these cases patients stopped receiving antipsychotics.  

In recent family therapy, the term Dialogical Practices is often linked with names like Peter Rober, Justine van Lawick or Jim Wilson. Very important is also Harlene Anderson,  an American family therapist and founding member of TAOS Institute (a community of students and practitioners with deep interest in dialogical and collaborative practices all over the world).

Dialogical practice has been recently applied in many different countries and contexts. Their common denominator is that…

The dialogical practitioner creates the space for authentic interpersonal meetings

The practitioner (be it a psychologist, therapist, social worker, doctor or mediator) helps to build the understanding between individuals, family members, groups of people or whole social nets by subtle usage of principles of dialogical practice.

The professional develops the constructive dialogue by being fully present in the interaction, by giving sensitive responses and by continuously pointing to the multiplicity of views and perspectives. This is being followed even in situations when one family member’s behaviour is confusing or possibly frightening or when there is a long running conflict between family members.

As the practitioners we also aim at giving the space to talk to every participant. We can help the family find words for something what could not have been said before and transform conflicts to one shared creative search for a solution.  

Open and authentic dialogue is the main tool for the improvement even in the work with individuals. Client and therapist, doctor and patient, mentor and student – they are all human beings with their own destinies, relationships and problems. Rather than trying to fix our client’s problems and influence their destiny, we try to be fully present and mindful and get through the situation together with them.

Clients often refer that problems have been dissolved rather than solved. Problems  seem to be spontaneously lifted or they simply become unimportant.

You can probably use the dialogical approach in your work too

Nowadays Dialogical Practices is being used in coaching, mediation and organisational psychology. At regular conferences about dialogical practices psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, neuroscientists, therapists from family or dance and artists meet and discuss the practice together.

How come?
Not only does this approach welcome the inclusion of various perspectives by nature but is also universal. It is not self-defining against other existing approaches. Instead it can very well cooperate with them.
In a wider perspective we can understand the dialogical approach as a life philosophy.

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