What is Voice Dialogue?

I discovered Voice Dialogue a few years ago by chance. I was reading an article on unconscious gender patterning when the book “The Shadow King” – the invisible force that holds women back by Sidra Stone was mentioned. I had to find out more!

The book purports that within each woman there is an unconscious inner self who upholds the societal conditioning of our childhood and the previous 5000+ years’ of the Patriarchy. I was intrigued to say the least, so set out to find out more. I watched a YouTube clip, ordered the book, booked a Skype session with a Voice Dialogue Practioner in the UK, met my unconscious inner patriarch, was both shocked and immensely excited by what I discovered, then within weeks signed up for a two year Voice Dialogue training in Dorset. I have now completed this training, which has delivered so much more personal insight than just discovering my inner patriarch!

So what is Voice Dialogue?

Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone devised the Voice Dialogue methodology in the 1970’s as a tool for them to explore, understand and develop their own relationship, as different parts of themselves engaged with different parts of the other. Together they have laid down a body of work which provides a highly effective and accessible methodology for personal growth.

Voice Dialogue works from the assumption that we are made up of different parts, known also as sub-personalities or inner-selves, the Stones’ refer to this as the Psychology of Selves.

Many of us are familiar with one of these selves – the Inner Critic, a self that often makes itself known to us in unpleasant ways. A few of the other selves that maybe familiar are: –

• The Pusher – always in a hurry, always needs to do more, never enough time to meet all of its demands, which it is constantly adding to with each new social media trend

• The Pleaser – constantly altering behaviour to keep other people happy, tries to avoid creating upsets, it is motivated by wanting to be liked

• The Controller – needs to be in charge, better to do it myself then it will be done right

Those familiar with the Enneagram may immediately see that the Pusher sounds like a 3, the Pleaser a 2 and the Controller a 1.

It follows that each of our main Enneagram type characteristics will form what we call in Voice Dialogue our Primary Selves i.e. the selves we live through most days of the week, which are familiar to us and to others.

(The Enneagram Personality typology system is an invaluable guide on the journey towards self-understanding and personal development, I draw on knowledge from this system when working with most of my coaching clients, please see other blog posts for more information.)

These Primary Selves form early in life as coping strategies to help us live in the world and to protect the vulnerable inner selves, mostly child selves who are too sweet and defenceless to cope well with everyday life.

If you ever feel totally overwhelmed by a task or challenge accompanied by the feeling “this is too big for me” “I’m too little to do this”, then that is probably one of your Vulnerable Inner Child selves surfacing.

The Stones suggest that we each have an infinite number of selves and there is no end to the information these inner selves can bring to us in service of our personal growth.

For each of our Primary Selves there will also be a Disowned Self at the other end of the spectrum, a part of us which we find so objectionable we project it on to other people.

Some of these disowned selves can be relatively easy to find once we start looking! Just think of a person you dislike, identify what it is about them you can’t stand, then notice how that is a behaviour you can’t tolerate in yourself.

One blessing of having Donald Trump as President of the USA is he is helping many of us to identify the parts of ourselves we have disowned!

And an important part of Voice Dialogue is not to make any of our selves wrong, they are all well intentioned.

The purpose is instead to raise our awareness to allow us to understand what roles they are playing in our lives.

Importantly we do not set out in a Voice Dialogue session to change anything, just to gain greater insight. Change will happen of its own accord once what needs to be seen and heard has been witnessed.

What happens in a Voice Dialogue Session?

In a Voice Dialogue session, the facilitator will: –

• Ask the client where and how they want to position themselves in the room and the optimal distance for them to sit from the facilitator, who will sit opposite

• Agree with the client how to help them get grounded and ready for the session, if the client wishes the facilitator will lead a short grounding routine

• Listen and will be attentive to the different viewpoints and thus voices the client is presenting

• Ask the client if they would like to hear more from the primary voice which is present, if the client agrees, the facilitator will ask the client to make a movement, such as to another chair in the room, to speak from that voice in the first person

• Invite the client to speak from wherever they are, with whatever question or issue seems most pressing in that moment

• Enter into a dialogue with the self to learn more about its thoughts, hopes, fears, and feelings, and how these relate to the client. Invariably new material will come to light during this dialogue

• Ask the client to come back to the original chair to what is called the ego position, when the conversation with this particular self has come to a natural conclusion

• Invite the client to talk about the experience of having met this particular self

• Depending on time and whether the opposite self has naturally arisen in the session, the facilitator will invite the client to make another move to explore this self

• Support the exploration of one, two or several different selves during the session

As clients become more familiar with the methodology over a number of sessions, they will start to notice the different selves as they arise and the facilitator will provide a safe space for them to follow their own movements as they explore the selves.

At the conclusion of the session, the facilitator will ask the client to come over to stand by their side while they run through a recap of what they observed happening during the session. This is called “an Awareness”. This helps the client to remember parts of the session they may have forgotten and to witness the experience from another perspective. When this information is added to the ego an Aware Ego process can start.

What to do after a Voice Dialogue session?

After a session the client is encouraged to keep an open mind about what just happened rather than try to make immediate sense of the session, this helps the process do the work that needs doing at an unconscious level.

Also it is highly likely that a lot of the unconscious work will be done at night in dreams, therefore it is often useful to note particularly significant dreams as they can bring insight into the next voice dialogue session.

Why do Voice Dialogue work?

It is important to understand that the purpose of doing the Voice Dialogue work is to develop an “Aware Ego”.

As our Aware Ego develops we become aware of these previously unconscious driving forces within ourselves and we are no longer identified with them in the same way. As we do so, we begin to be much more able to consciously choose our response to life.

The development of an Aware Ego is on ongoing process which requires many years of practise, but eventually we are able to separate not only from our primary and disowned selves, but also generations of traditional socialised behaviour.

Hence why the Voice Dialogue methodology can be a really helpful tool to support us to free ourselves from the invisible forces that hold us back in the world.

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