The shift from monologue to dialogue in a couple therapy session: dialogical investigation of change from the therapists' point of view

Mary E. Olson, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Aarno Laitila, University of Jyvaskyla
Peter Rober, International Federation of Social Workers
Jaakko Seikkula, University of Jyvaskyla

At the time of publication, Mary Olson was not yet affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.


As part of a larger research project on couple therapy for depression, this qualitative case study examines the nature of dialogue. Drawing on Bakhtinian concepts, the investigation shows how the conversation shifts from a monologue to dialogue. Among the findings are: first, the process of listening is integral to the transforming experience. That is, the careful listening of the therapist can evoke new voices, just as the experience of one of the partners' "listening in" to the conversation between the other partner and the therapist can create movement and new trajectories. The latter is a qualitative difference between dialogic therapy with a couple and that with an individual. Second, the therapist not only acts as creative listener, but as the dialogue unfolds, actively contributes to meaning-making. Third, the study upholds having a team of researchers as a polyphonic forum and the usefulness of Bakhtinian concepts in clinical research on dialogue in multi-actor sessions.