Miriam Dyak, BA, CC
The human brain is a collector. It gathers information, compares it to all the data it has previously compiled, and then files the new impression in a likely category. The brain is loath to go out on a limb and create an entirely new file for a completely unknown, unconnected classification. Some ancient alarm bell sounds alerting us we’re going beyond the known, “off the deep end.” Our primary selves, ever focused on safety and survival, assure us, “No, this concept isn’t really new. See, here — it fits right in with what you’ve already learned. Relax, you’re safe.” This way of greeting the new also echoes our ancient tribal consciousness. There is a sense that what comes from a stranger outside the tribe may be dangerous, but, if one of our own — our shaman, our warrior — goes out and brings back this same new thing to the tribe, it is held sacred because we have won it and it now belongs to us.
Because of this, for all the years Voice Dialogue facilitators and teachers have sought to introduce this work to their professional and personal communities, we have been met with (in the early days) “Oh, I know what that is, it’s just like Gestalt” or “That sounds a lot like Psychosynthesis.” In more recent times we’re more likely to hear, “I already do that — I’m trained in IFS (Internal Family Systems)” or “Yes, of course, I’ve done a workshop in Big Mind.” All of these (most likely unconscious) responses have in common an effect of relaxation for the person hearing about Voice Dialogue for the first time. When we’re on the listening end of the communication about something new and different, our primary selves are relieved that we’re already up on everything, i.e. we haven’t missed something important, and there is no real challenge made to what we already know.
For the persons attempting to introduce Voice Dialogue there is a common frustration of trying to communicate what is essentially different about this work. With colleagues who work with a modality related to Voice Dialogue, I have often found the most benefit in exchanging sessions. Then we each “get it” and can go back to our respective communities and present the new ideas in a comfortable context. Certainly the colleague with whom I do the exchange will be better at communicating her/his impression of Voice Dialogue to colleagues and peers in Gestalt, Psychosynthesis, IFS, Big Mind, TA, etc., than I would be, because they are coming from within the “tribe” of that work.
At this point, however, in the evolution of Voice Dialogue as a method and the Psychology of the Aware Ego as a theory, it could be very helpful to articulate some of the essential qualities that are unique to this work and that make the Voice Dialogue method significantly different from other kinds of “parts work,” personal growth modalities, and approaches to the development of consciousness. It could also be beneficial to have more understanding of where there is real overlap — what we share with other modalities. Then, whether or not we are able in any given situation to successfully communicate this difference to others, we would at least gain clarity for ourselves and establish a stronger ground and identity for our practice.
What follows is a beginning attempt to describe aspects of Voice Dialogue theory and practice that are essential and sometimes unique. I wish to state clearly from the outset that I do not have the necessary training and background to do a thorough side-by-side comparison of Voice Dialogue with other “similar” modalities (which might also require a much lengthier treatment), so I will place my primary emphasis on the qualities of the work I know and have practiced for over twenty-five years. I will try to make clear where these qualities are shared with other modalities that work with inner selves, and which ones are unique to Voice Dialogue. I will also try to point out where this work appears to overlap with these other modalities, but in actuality is distinctly different (references, 2).
Tracing the roots of Voice Dialogue and “parts work” would also be extremely valuable but lengthier than this exploration will allow. Suffice it to say that before the Stones developed Voice Dialogue as we know it, Gestalt had already pointed out “top dog” and “underdog” selves and used two-chair work to have selves talk with each other; Jung spoke in terms of complexes and archetypes, and revealed how the animus and anima were the masculine self inside the woman and the feminine inside the man; Assagioli created Psychosynthesis as a system for bringing parts of the personality into a more cohesive whole as well as accessing a higher, transpersonal Self; Satir worked with a “parts party” in family therapy; and Berne had created a way of working with parent and child selves in Transactional Analysis. In the same era, The Three Faces Of Eve and Sybil brought awareness of multiple personalities into the culture and helped us understand that selves were not merely mental constructs but have a profound physical and energetic impact as well. As of this writing (2010), several additional modalities have come along with new ways of working with parts and consciousness. In addition to IFS and Big Mind (the latter grew out of Voice Dialogue), there is also Ego State Therapy, focused mainly on trauma recovery, the DNMS (Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy) which, like TA, focuses on inner parent and child selves, ARC (A Return to Consciousness), which has some similarities to the Body Dialogue work developed by Tamar Stone, and perhaps more that I’m not yet aware of. People everywhere are waking up to the multifaceted nature of the psyche and devising new creative ways to work with parts or selves.
Doubtless we could also go back in time to earlier cultures and find a great awareness of human multidimensionality. Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, the Stones, and others have all pointed out how the Greek pantheon of gods represented multiple aspects of human nature (as do other families of gods in Roman, Hindu, Celtic, and many indigenous religions). In fact, the earliest known written story, that of the goddess Inanna, dating back more than 5,000 years, is about “…what happens when we reject major powers in order to take on civilization,” and “one of the major teachings of the myth is that all the things we sent away or killed wait for us to come and visit and reclaim them in the underworld” (Houston, J.). The concepts of primary and disowned selves, of the struggle of opposites, and that there is some core essence in our being that needs to be revealed and claimed, are as old as our oldest myths, fairytales, and folk legends, as well as the Old and New Testaments and the sacred stories of every culture. What is different and sometimes new is how we choose to work with these selves, archetypes, and opposites.
In that light it is also very important to mention that all these modalities, including Voice Dialogue, are in the hands of the facilitator. Something I might consider absolutely fundamental to my practice of Voice Dialogue might not even be included in the way certain other facilitators work with this process, and I imagine this is true for other modalities as well. Also, thankfully, there has been much exchange among colleagues, so that many of us are knowingly or unknowingly drawing on a blend of several approaches. What is possible to delineate, then, is the overall foundation, direction, and intention of the work rather than the unique qualities of each facilitator’s practice.
Five Essential Elements Unique to Voice Dialogue
Let’s begin then with five elements that are essential to Voice Dialogue and distinguish this process from other approaches. The first four are:
1. The physical/energetic separation of the selves/energies from each other;
2. The birth out of that separation of an Aware Ego Process;
3. The conscious regulation of energy both in the body and psyche of the individual and in relationship to others; and
4. The concept that identity and consciousness can be in the whole living process rather than the result of attainment or the realization of Self.
1. Separation and embodiment of the selves: Dr. Betty Bosdell, who came to Voice Dialogue from a background in Psychosynthesis as well as Gestalt, TA, and Jungian psychology among other modalities, says that the “unique thing about Voice Dialogue is the separation of the energies. In almost all other methods, you have parts talking to parts. It’s the major difference and also the genius of Voice Dialogue because it keeps all the energies of the parts really straight” (B. Bosdell, personal communication. December, 2009). This is the difference with Voice Dialogue that strikes people immediately. A colleague trained in ARC commented after her first Voice Dialogue session, “The clarity that separating the selves brings is really exciting. It’s very real and very respectful.”
Hal Stone, commenting on the difference between his experience of selves in Voice Dialogue from his experiences in Jungian analysis and Gestalt, says, “It is a very different experience to talk to a self in a visualization or in your journal than it is to become a self where the energy is held by someone else. Until I had the experience of becoming the self/complex they were not real to me. What is interesting is the fact that the same thing was true of my experience with Gestalt therapy. It was clear that [the selves] held different contents, but they just weren’t real to me. This is why the beginning of Sidra’s and my work was so very dramatic, even shocking for us. To know the child complex or self is one thing. To experience being the child was an entirely different experience, and we were in totally new territory” (H. Stone, personal communication, January 2010). Hearing this from Hal Stone makes perfect sense to me because it is through moving into a self that I discover its aliveness in my body and being. Until I move into the self’s energy, I don’t really have a clue how it changes me on physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual levels because the fullness of each self is revealed through embodiment. And, this is perhaps a significant reason why it’s hard to grasp Voice Dialogue only on an intellectual level — it has to be experienced.
Involved in this literal physical and energetic separation is experiencing how each self lives in the body — how it moves, breathes, how it does or doesn’t use the senses, its relationship to ground. Dramatically, physical symptoms may appear or disappear when one physically moves into or out of a self. The subject may become aware that a certain tension in the neck or shoulders is a sure sign that a particular self is present. Separating out the self through movement, and allowing its full embodiment, does not occur in the same way when the process of connecting to selves is internalized, experienced as an inner guided journey. Nor can one hear the nuanced voice tones or perceive the body language and gestures of each self in this way when the dialogue is purely internal.
2. The initiation and evolution of an Aware Ego Process: The Aware Ego Process differs from many other approaches to personal growth in that it is an ongoing process one cultivates rather than a result one strives for. The Stones, and many others, have described the Aware Ego as “more a verb than a noun.” The nature of Aware Ego is in some ways very much like the “I” or “Self” in Psychosynthesis, and the process of Self leadership in IFS, especially as these are seen to have an ongoing evolving ability to function separately from all the selves, and at the same time be in relationship to them. However, Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of the Aware Ego hold a different perspective on the goal of separating from selves and creating an Aware Ego Process. There is not an explicit or implicit search for wholeness, unity, or integration in the sense of all the parts needing to in some way heal, transform, or reconcile with each other, though the process certainly leads to the selves being understood and embraced. The Aware Ego is just fine with ambiguity, lack of unity, unreconciled opposites — in fact from an Aware Ego perspective we expect them and have no judgment of them. In Voice Dialogue you already have unity if you can become conscious of it, so the only thing to strive for is separation (“disidentification,” as Assagioli first put it), which results in conscious awareness, and the ability through the Aware Ego Process to exercise choice and create an ongoing dynamic balancing between opposites.
From a Voice Dialogue perspective, what we have before the Aware Ego begins to develop is an “operating ego,” a group of primary selves that defines itself as the person, functions as the person. It is often some self or selves from this operating ego that go to therapy, enroll in workshops, or undertake a spiritual practice. Unless the personal growth process includes separation from these selves, it is possible for this self or group of selves to continue to pretend they are the person in question all through their exploration of the chosen modality. The Aware Ego Process, like the Self in Psychosynthesis and Self Leadership in IFS, gives us a completely different context in which to engage in therapy, and for that matter, in life. I believe that IFS, Psychosynthesis, and other forms of parts work definitely help us to shift out of the selves and into a consciousness that is beyond their realm. The Aware Ego Process in Voice Dialogue gives one a concrete, physical, and energetic place from which to choreograph the dance of one’s inner selves. That separate place and the ability to recognize over time with practice when one has successfully arrived there, make a tangible difference in clarity, choice, and functioning beyond the world of the selves.
The Aware Ego is also fully both a psychological and spiritual process that activates a holographic connection between our personal history and archetypal, universal reality. The Aware Ego exists in relation to the selves from which separation has occurred, and Voice Dialogue is essentially a relational process, inside and out. Hal Stone comments, “The ignition of the Aware Ego Process is also the ignition of the Intelligence machinery that lies within us, and we begin to become open to information networks that were closed to us before. This Intelligence activation is related to what Jung called the Individuation process, but they are not the same. The Intelligence that is activated in our work leads to a relational process as well as our personal one. Individuation is a process that happens primarily within us” (H. Stone, personal communication, January 2010).
3. The conscious regulation of energy both in the body and psyche of the individual and in relationship to others: Working with inner selves on a purely energetic level apart from any content is an aspect of Voice Dialogue that is quite different from other approaches to parts work. For those who have not experienced this aspect of the work, an example would be separating from a very mental self and also from a very feeling self. After facilitating these selves, one would have the beginning of an Aware Ego Process in relation to them. From Aware Ego one could invite in their energy separately or together, find where each lives in the body, and create a workable balance between them purely on the level of energy and body experience. If the head and heart can function well in the same body, then the energies of a mental self and a feeling self can work together just as well even if they are not in agreement on a content level at all.
Many other therapeutic modalities focus on tracking a felt sense of energy in the body and also on energetic, nonverbal communication between people. IFS, for example, will help the client notice how a particular self feels in the body. I do not, however, know of another approach to parts work that works with consciously calling in the energy of a particular self, locating that energy in the body, being able in Aware Ego to have choice about how that energy affects the physical body, using intention to increase or decrease the intensity of the energy (dialing up and dialing down), and then learning how to do the same with the energy of an opposite self in order to bring the opposite selves into a new dynamic balance. All these things are done purely on the level of energy through the Aware Ego Process.
Regulating the energies of the selves in this way is a direct outgrowth of the physical separation of selves and the development of an Aware Ego Process out of that separation. Having an ability to rebalance the selves purely on the level of energy can be life changing because it makes it possible for us to immediately get beyond the entrenched issues, attitudes, oppositions, and histories of the individual selves, and find a way through Aware Ego to have the energies of the selves work together on the level of body, felt sense, and nonverbal communication without trying to get the selves to change. Making changes in the self system purely through shifts in energy and learning in Aware Ego to regulate these energies can have very positive consequences for the selves, especially since they don’t have to change in order to make that happen.
In addition, Voice Dialogue carries an awareness of energy a step further by focusing on the recognition and regulation of energy in outer as well as inner relationships. Through the facilitation of selves, the subject learns to identify when there is/isn’t “linkage,” the Voice Dialogue term for a felt energetic connection between people. It is also out of the full physical embodiment of each self that we become aware of the degree to which any particular self can “link” energetically with others. This ability to create a felt energetic connection between ourselves and other people is key to Voice Dialogue relationship work. And when this is further developed into the ability to link energetically through an Aware Ego Process, it is unique to Voice Dialogue.
What also is different in and possibly unique to Voice Dialogue is that the facilitator is in direct verbal and energetic communication with the selves, rather than guiding the subject to communicate on an inner level with each individual self. This means the facilitator must match or resonate with the energy of the self being facilitated as well as hold an energetic connection to its opposite. In other words, the facilitator has to be in the Aware Ego Process, hold an energetic balance between opposites, and model a conscious energy management so that the subject will gradually be able to grow into these abilities as well.
4. Identity and consciousness in the whole living process: Voice Dialogue offers a radically new approach to consciousness. You are already conscious whenever you can achieve three elements: experiencing the selves; awareness of the selves; and holding balance between the opposites of the selves through an Aware Ego Process. Within the Psychology of the Aware Ego there is no hierarchy created within the psyche — no Self is made higher or better or beyond other selves to strive toward, and at the same time there are no selves that need to be rejected as less than, inauthentic, false, etc. There is nothing that needs to be changed in the personality in order to reach consciousness, and identity resides in the whole process rather than in any self or Self, or in any attainment of either a psychological or spiritual kind.
Among other results, this has a profound effect on the way our inner selves perceive the Voice Dialogue process. Even though all the modalities I have mentioned hold inner selves with (varying degrees of) respect and certainly treat them with compassion and kindness, there is a profound relaxation that occurs when selves understand they are being appreciated as they are and are not expected to integrate, unburden, change, evolve, or do anything other than be themselves. To be sure, integration, unburdening, change, and evolution all occur, but instead of expecting the selves to change, Voice Dialogue changes the context within which they operate. In a sense Voice Dialogue facilitation invites the selves into a new home where each can have its own room — room to breathe, room to live, room to be itself free from attack and interference. Quite naturally the more the self lives in that place, the more it does relax and to a certain extent evolves, but at its own pace.
5. The open-source nature of Voice Dialogue as an approach to consciousness: I’m coming to understand that everything in Voice Dialogue happens within the context of the Stones’ decision not to certify this work; this in itself not only colors the entire practice and experience of the work but also makes Voice Dialogue really a hybrid between a personal growth or therapy modality and a spiritual practice, which of course is ongoing and cannot really be certified. When the Stones talk about surrendering to the consciousness process, it’s a bit like taking vows in Buddhist practices, which are seen as “taking refuge in our own intrinsic enlightenment” (Mipham, S. 2000), and where no one on the outside can really certify that one is keeping those vows.
Keeping the work as an open-source process means that the ways in which Voice Dialogue can be implemented are open-ended, and are increasing as more and more people adapt this approach to their own areas of expertise. It flattens the hierarchy on all levels (inner and outer), and means the process is available for creative use in everything from clinical work to executive coaching to peer facilitation to use in the arts. On their website, Hal and Sidra Stone assert that their “work belongs to everyone; it is a gift to us that we are passing on,” and their hope is that people will build on it with their own creativity and in turn pass it on to others. They continue with a statement that it is impossible to certify an Aware Ego Process, and that the best facilitators are always growing and learning and continuing their own process with the work. They do not support certification by themselves or anyone else. In other words the work is and remains an open, ongoing, evolutionary process for both facilitator and subject that cannot be pinned down to a set of practices, rules, theories, or ways of working that everyone can and should do alike (www.voicedialogue.org).
These five elements together result in a singular personality and energy profile of Voice Dialogue as a method, so that even when one finds parallels with each of the five elements in other approaches to healing and consciousness, the combination of all five is unique and can have profound effects on the person experiencing it as either facilitator or subject. Let’s now explore further the foundational elements of the work and their similarities to and differences from other modalities. Then, at the end of our journey, we will come to an expanded understanding of the overall qualities that add up to the essential nature of Voice Dialogue.
Underlying Premises Shared by Voice Dialogue
and Other Forms of Parts Work
In addition to the five elements unique to Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of the Aware Ego, there are also a number of other fundamental suppositions and characteristics of the work that are shared in part with other forms of therapy, personal growth work, and spiritual practice.
Voice Dialogue shares with all the other forms of parts work the concept that the psyche is by its nature multidimensional, though the perception of these selves as fully embodied individual entities varies. IFS sees the selves as very real and embodied, while on the other end of the spectrum, Jungian psychology views them as more intellectualized complexes. IFS, Ego State Therapy, and the DNMS are all trauma-based clinical models, and as such are concerned more with wounded selves (especially those that have been injured in childhood and are consequently stuck in reaction to that wounding) and their relationship to parent selves. In IFS “Parts… carry… burdens which are extreme emotions and beliefs that they accumulated through experiences in their lives. And those burdens are what drive those extremes. Once they feel really witnessed in terms of where they got the burdens and retrieved from where they are stuck in the past, they can actually unload these extreme beliefs and emotions, and then they transform into their naturally valuable state” (Schwartz, February, 2010, USABP).
The primary purpose of these more clinical approaches is healing, whereas the primary purpose of Voice Dialogue is consciousness. In the end, both kinds of approaches will achieve both of these results, but the contrasting emphasis changes the feel of the work, and people then are attracted to using these methods for different reasons. For example, clients commonly enter into Voice Dialogue looking to resolve inner or outer conflict, and end up discovering that the cultivation of an Aware Ego Process can actually become a lifelong spiritual practice. I believe this also occurs with Jungian dream work and the pursuit of a transpersonal Self in Psychosynthesis. I would think that the cultivation of Self leadership in IFS can also evolve into a life practice in consciousness, even if the beginning of the process is focused on healing from trauma.
While all these modalities recognize the reality of parts or selves, they vary greatly in how open-ended they are in viewing the inner world of the psyche. For the trauma-based models, the wounded selves and their protectors, defenses, managers, and firefighters seem very real. There is not, however, perhaps the emphasis shared by Voice Dialogue, Jungian psychology, Gestalt, and Psychosynthesis on selves that are found in dreams, guided imagery, and through connection with the archetypes. Archetypal and dream selves may be entirely new and not necessarily directly related to trauma or early life experience.
However, the viewpoint that inner process and becoming aware of one’s selves are intrinsically valuable is shared in all these modalities, and also by Big Mind (and some forms of Buddhist practice), though perhaps from a different perspective. Voice Dialogue also holds the view that there is a force within us and in the universe that seeks wholeness and balance. This is most clearly evident in the realm of relationships, where either we come to a place of self-knowledge and take responsibility for our own internal dynamics, or we project outward and get other people to fill in for the parts of our personality we refuse to claim as our own. There is a recognition that every aspect of human nature is within us, and an assumption that whenever we refuse to own or fail to regulate some aspect of our personality, we will be subject to someone else who will. This perspective is shared to one degree or another with all the approaches I have mentioned, but again with much variation regarding how much emphasis is placed on relationships. At one end of the continuum is TA, which is all about transactions between people. At the other end might be Jungian analysis, where one may discover one’s shadow material through relationship to others, but emphasis might be placed first on one’s own internal process and secondarily on working out the relationship.
It is not surprising that Voice Dialogue has a great deal in common with other forms of therapy and personal growth work, because its roots are definitely intertwined with Jungian therapy, Gestalt, and Psychosynthesis. However, the realization that not only certain individual elements of Voice Dialogue but really the combination of all of them that gives the work its particular potency and effectiveness is also of key importance. Let’s take a deeper look at how Voice Dialogue works with selves, how the Aware Ego and Awareness figure into the story, the implications of conscious regulation of energies, the role of the facilitator, and Voice Dialogue as an evolutionary process.
Selves in Voice Dialogue
In Voice Dialogue the selves are real, live energetic beings, each with its own history, viewpoint, beliefs, physical reality, and expression, desires, attachments, skills, talents/gifts. Each self has its own reason for being, its own internal logic, which we can come to understand no matter how different or unusual it may be. We often notice a self because it shows up in an attitude, a habit, or a sort of default behavior. As in IFS, an important part of Voice Dialogue is really letting each self we work with have full expression so that we are able to unwrap the package of the self enough to see its dimensionality, and get away from the habit of defining it by the behavior that has been evident. This in itself is healing. Other selves may dislike this self, may even bring the person into therapy to get rid of it, but the facilitator encounters each self with open curiosity and true honoring. This is often met with great relief on the part of the self as it becomes separated out from the others, receives genuine interest in what it is trying to accomplish, and is truly appreciated for the ways in which it has served in the person’s life.
Selves in the Voice Dialogue process do not interact with other selves, nor are they expected to evolve or alter their behavior of their own accord as they are in some other modalities. This is quite different from the negotiations with parts in IFS or in Gestalt. Richard Schwartz developed IFS as a “way of working with parts of people, sub-personalities, but using systems thinking to understand how they relate to each other…” hence the name Internal Family Systems (Schwartz, February 2010). In contrast, Voice Dialogue acknowledges the inner dynamics between selves, but it does not necessarily address them or attempt to change them directly. Instead the focus is on separation, creation of an Aware Ego Process between opposite selves, and developing the capacity to relate to the selves and the dynamics between them through the Aware Ego Process. One image of this is the Aware Ego grabbing hold of the rope between two selves who are in a tug of war, so that there is slack in the line and they are no longer pulling against each other. Before a person comes for her first Voice Dialogue session, her selves have already had considerable experience with being manipulated, bullied, and cajoled, etc., by other parts of the personality (often this mirrors exactly experiences the individual had in early life with parents, siblings, and playmates). In the facilitation process, selves interact first with the facilitator, who energetically matches and holds the self, and then with the Aware Ego as it grows in its ability to take the facilitator’s place. This principle, along with the physical separation of selves, results in a unique experience of safety for selves in the facilitation process.
Selves, no matter what their behavior or emotional experience, are not seen as problems and are not pathologized in this work. Voice Dialogue gives great consideration to how the selves feel about the process, whether they like being facilitated or not. They are treated with respect — period. Other modalities also hold respect for selves, and at the same time the therapist is often focused on an idea of what selves might need in order to move them toward some end, get them to integrate, as in Gestalt and Psychosynthesis, or unburden them as in IFS. Even though evolution, integration, and something quite similar to “unburdening” may occur in the Voice Dialogue process, these changes come about organically, not as a result of any intention on the part of the facilitator, and it’s fine if they don’t. Voice Dialogue uncovers these various dynamics among selves, and then that awareness is given over to the Aware Ego, which will use it in its experiments with how to live life. In this way Voice Dialogue work is often the opposite of many clinical approaches in almost everything from analysis to manners. As I often teach in Voice Dialogue facilitator trainings, the selves are not people who have agreed to do therapy, and cannot be treated as such.
Where and when do selves originate? Like IFS, the DNMS, Ego State Therapy, and other modalities, selves may be seen in Voice Dialogue to originate in early childhood (including infancy) and even in the womb, often as a response to traumatic situations. However, Voice Dialogue accepts and honors each self’s description of its own history, including those selves that say, “I’m ancient. I’m way older than this lifetime” and those that say, “I’ve never been here before — I’m getting born right now out of this process.” The times in a person’s life that typically tend to generate the most new selves (new ways of coping with reality) are birth and infancy, early childhood, the birth of a sibling, parents’ divorce or loss of a parent, any major injury or disease process, the beginning of school, going away from home for the first time, first sexual experiences, marriage, birth of a child, entering into a career, any major change or loss in relationship or career, moving to a new place, or embarking on a spiritual path.
As in Jungian therapy and Gestalt, Voice Dialogue embraces all energies as potential selves, with the caveat that in facilitation one first honors the primary selves that have “seniority” in the person’s life. The facilitator and client can together creatively use imagination to explore the psyche. It’s just as easy and just as fruitful to talk to a tree or an animal from a dream, or have the subject move over into the energy of a friend or family member, as it is to explore more familiar inner selves such as a Pleaser or the Voice of Responsibility. The point is that any energy a human being can express or own is fair game, not just historical psychological ones. This is the nature of psycho-spiritual work, and it can go beyond problem solving and trauma healing into other dimensions of realization and creativity.
Voice Dialogue recognizes that the number of selves may be infinite, and does not attempt to place them into categories other than primary and disowned. With other forms of parts work there is often a framework into which every part of a person must fit; i.e. we are looking at the personality through the lens of parent, adult, child in TA, or looking at them in terms of managers, firefighters, or exiles in IFS. In Voice Dialogue, the designation of primary self means simply that the self is an integral part of who this person thinks he is and/or how he functions in the world. Primary selves include those that have developed defensive strategies early in life (controlling, pleasing, caretaking, rational thinking); they also include selves that possess certain talents and abilities that are accepted parts of the personality (organizing, creativity, athleticism). Disowned simply means this particular energy/self is not allowed in this person’s self system. Primary and disowned are not roles that the selves have to fill, and can be quite fluid. A self may be situationally disowned or primary. For example, it might be okay to be wild and crazy on vacation, but not at home. Also one person’s primary self is another’s disowned self and vice versa — hence the outbreak of wars on both an intimate and global level.
Voice Dialogue allows for greater dimensionality in its view of primary selves. A person might try out a variety of modalities and experience the same inner self from differing perspectives. The self might get labeled a defense in one system, a manager in another, but if it is seen as a primary self in Voice Dialogue, it will be met with inquiry about how it is unique rather than how it fits into a predetermined category. Often the facilitation helps the self to remember or discover a much greater range of interests than its most recent experience would imply. As in most parts work, primary selves are often seen to develop out of our vulnerability in childhood, when they arise to devise strategies to protect the vulnerable parts of us from pain and harm. It’s clear, however, that primary selves also hold many of our gifts and innate talents. One child who is gifted intellectually may develop a primary self that has this gift and uses it to get good grades, to win approval, or perhaps to retreat into books as form of protection. Another child with a different talent uses her sports ability to get rewards and avoid other areas that are challenging. In this way primary selves are both expressive of each person’s strengths as well as protective of his/her vulnerabilities.
Often, by the time people reach adulthood, many of their primary selves are overfunctioning and they go into counseling or coaching or a spiritual practice in order to try to get away, for example, from being “too in my head” or “too controlling.” Typically, in many therapeutic modalities and spiritual teachings, one finds a great level of respect for individuals, but the selves are, at worst, seen as “inauthentic,” “codependent,” “wounded,” and, at best, found to be subtly “less than,” in need of integrating or returning to a healthy state. While the client/participant/student may for the first time experience a recognition of her/his deeper essence, this acknowledgment and honoring of the individual’s essence often comes at the expense of dishonoring the selves. In some cases this is expressed as “You are powerful, creative, a real soul, etc. These other parts of you are not the real you, are not authentic, are only ego.” The implication is that when you get beyond these unreal, inauthentic parts of yourself, you’ll be able to shine forth as the exquisite, enlightened being you are. There are two very large problems with this. One is that it gives the person one more, and indeed impossible, task to accomplish before she/he can be validated as a fully realized and worthy human being. The other is that these primary selves have been doing most of the hard work of living this person’s life, and once again they get little or no credit for their efforts. Thankfully, this is truer of other forms of therapy and personal growth than it is of most kinds of parts work. IFS, for example, is very sympathetic to these kinds of overfunctioning protective selves, and creates real relationships with them even as it asks them to step aside and allow for change.
There is no concept in Voice Dialogue of aiming toward or looking to create (an often elusive) Self that is more valuable than the rest. Certainly there are some selves that seem to be closer to the core and hold more of that “psychic fingerprint.” Actually, most often the rest of the selves each have a bit of that essence too, a bit of talent, natural inclination, temperament, etc., that has been appropriated and developed toward a particular purpose or use. A great deal of work in the Aware Ego Process is discovering how to regulate the energy of any particular self at a level where it can contribute the best of what it does naturally (e.g., discernment rather than being judgmental, exercising control rather than being controlling, self-care instead of selfishness), and not viewing the self as in any way limited to the negative end of its expression.
Understanding the selves in a context of relationship is central to Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of the Aware Ego. Experience in facilitation has taught me that in every individual session the issues are connected to relationship, and in every relationship session the issues reflect back to the individuals involved and affect the internal relationship dynamics among each person’s inner selves. Because the earliest most primary (and most disowned) selves are formed in relationship at the beginning of our lives, it is really impossible to understand them out of the context of relationship. We form our personalities as a collection of selves that come out of our family of origin experience, our community, our culture, and our country. When we encounter someone new — a friend, a teacher, a lover, a boss, a coworker — our selves interact with theirs. Whatever happens in the relationship reflects back to us a mirror of the energies we carry that are opposite to the ones the other person carries. At that point, we have the choice to learn from the relationship, integrate the other person’s qualities/energies, or continue a pattern of projection and blame that may ultimately destroy the relationship.
That loop — the individual affecting the relationship and the relationship affecting the individual — along with the dance of how we hold the opposites for each other, is what makes relationship of all kinds such a profound psycho-spiritual teacher. The other modalities to which we have been comparing the Voice Dialogue process all recognize the concept of projecting our shadow or disowned selves onto others, but the discovery of positive and negative bonding patterns as a way of unraveling the complex interpersonal interactions of selves and the understanding of energetic linkage as key to the success of relationships are both unique contributions of the Stones’ work.
Beyond simply identifying shadow projection, positive and negative bonding patterns clearly show how one person’s selves interact with another person’s based on automatic, or instinctual, parent-child interactions (bonding). The Stones speak of these as “hard-wired” or “archetypal.” Bonding patterns are never general — they are always rooted in actual relational events between people. Identifying them and diagramming these patterns of interaction between selves enhances separation from these same selves and helps to build the Aware Ego Process. The closest comparison I can find to the Stones’ work with bonding patterns are the diagrams used in TA to illustrate interactions between people from parent, adult, or child realities. “Crossed transactions” from a parent energy in one person to the child in the other, and vice versa, are seen to be rooted in the past and result in putting a stop to communication, whereas adult-to-adult (somewhat like Aware Ego to Aware Ego) transactions are in the moment, and communication continues. Even though TA also focuses on the total communication package of words, voice tone, expression, and gesture, and also recognizes the difference between positive and negative parent modes, the descriptions of parent-child transactions seem to me to be more clinical because the selves are so generalized into three categories. TA also does not appear to have the same concept of energetic linkage as key to determining the nature and feel of the interactions (transactions). As a result (to someone coming from Voice Dialogue), the parents and children in TA seem a bit lacking in personality, somehow less alive (Berne, E.).
The Role of the Aware Ego Process
The Aware Ego Process is the most mysterious and revolutionary aspect of Voice Dialogue, as is Self Leadership in IFS, which perhaps comes the closest to the Aware Ego Process in terms of its internal function. We talked earlier about the brain’s reluctance to add entirely new categories to its filing system, and the Aware Ego is definitely a new concept that doesn’t quite fit anywhere in our preexisting organization of reality. Once the Aware Ego Process has been initiated, it’s quite clear to the person experiencing it but still hard to explain adequately to others.
It’s perhaps most effective, then, to describe the Aware Ego Process in terms of how it is experienced, and, in fact, Richard Schwartz does the same in his description of Self Leadership: “After twenty years of helping people toward Self leadership, I can describe what my clients exhibit as they increasingly embody self” (Schwartz, R., 2001). Schwartz continues with eight words beginning with “C” that capture the essence of the Self-led experience: “calmness, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity, connectedness” (Schwartz, R., 2001, pp. 44–57). All of these are definitely qualities one also finds in the Aware Ego Process, with perhaps some differences in the ways in which these qualities are experienced. I’ll comment on some of them and discuss other elements of the Aware Ego Process that I have not found described in IFS or other parts work.
Calmness in the Aware Ego process is a sense of neutrality, of in-betweenness (in some ways comparable to neutral gear in a car) where there is the potential at any moment to shift into any particular self/energy, and at the same time a clear sense of not having to do anything or go anywhere. This sense may be reported as a sort of ordinary calm in the body (vs. a deeper calm that might come in meditation); a feeling of spaciousness as well as literally more breathing space, and a sense of “I feel fine.” Sometimes there is a slight deflation or flatness of affect because the self that was separated is pumped up full of energy, and Aware Ego just feels very simple and “personality-less” by comparison.
Definitely a natural, organic, and effortless experience of compassion develops in Aware Ego, and while it extends into our outer relationships, it is first and foremost experienced in relation to the selves. Though the Aware Ego is not caught up in being any self, it definitely feels the reality of each self and can often discover new alternative solutions to problems the selves experience, which they might never think of on their own. However, some decisions by their nature leave one side or the other disappointed: one cannot, for example, both buy a new computer and not buy it, or both go on a trip and not go on it. In these situations the person in her/his Aware Ego Process fully experiences the loss of a self that does not get its way. This nature of the AEP then organically translates into an experience of compassion, with both the person in Aware Ego experiencing being compassionate, and the selves feeling themselves the recipients of compassion. I believe this can be also very similar to the Buddhist practice of directing loving-kindness toward oneself.
Curiosity is a quality many of the selves lack because of their single-minded focus on a particular belief or agenda. Separating from a self automatically opens the possibility of embracing its opposite and balancing between the two, and since people in the Aware Ego Process are now connected to both sides, they become naturally curious about what’s going on inside themselves and in others. When it’s only selves present in a relationship, there will be lots of judgments (both negative and positive). The person in Aware Ego and the Self-led person won’t have these same preconceived ideas to defend, and as a result will be more able to open up and learn about the other person.
Connectedness in Voice Dialogue is based in energetic linkage through the Aware Ego, and it is the Aware Ego’s ability to manage one’s energetic expression that radically enhances our ability to sustain intimate relationship, and to have much deeper connections with people. To the degree we are able to access the AEP in our lives, we are also able to relate to others through an Aware Ego Process. This utterly transforms any relationship in which it occurs, because it is the selves that create the polarizations we experience between others and ourselves. The more we can be in relationship from this center of holding opposites in balance the less we depend on our spouses, children, work partners, employees, etc., to hold our disowned selves for us. It becomes possible to relate in wholeness to others on the outside and to our own selves on the inside. Because Aware Ego is an ongoing, evolving process, so is our ability to connect with others through Aware Ego. On the bright side, though, even if only one person in the relationship has begun to separate from selves, the balance of the energies will shift. Gradually even the person who has not begun this work will either find less “matching Velcro” to get the bonding pattern going or will move on to a different relationship where he/she can continue to make the old patterns stick.
Of all the modalities with which we’re comparing Voice Dialogue, IFS really seems to be the most similar in regard to this view of what happens between people when there is more Self Leadership or more Aware Ego in the mix. The differences, though, are subtle but important. Schwartz sees Self as innate, that it’s always there and has always been there. When his clients discover it they say, “that’s not a part, that’s who I really am.” According to Schwartz, what he is calling Self “spontaneously emerges in everybody,” once parts have stepped aside, separated (Schwartz, February 2010). Applying that concept to relationship, IFS also has the perception that “Self in one person is a magnet for Self in another” (Schwartz, 2001, p. 56). Voice Dialogue, on the other hand, definitely does not see the Aware Ego Process as innate or preexisting as some essential core of the personality ready to emerge, although Aware Ego does also spontaneously come into being out of the process of separating from selves. And, yes, the Voice Dialogue perspective sees that holding balance between primary and disowned selves internally frees us from polarizing against someone who holds our disowned energy, and in turn frees them to find their own balance. The other person might go on to separate from selves and develop her own Aware Ego process, or she might simply find someone else with whom to do the dance of polarization. Her Aware Ego process would not necessarily be magnetized by the presence of another.
Like Schwartz, I have collected observations of what seems to happen with people (clients, myself, etc.) in the Aware Ego Process. In addition to his eight C’s, I have also noticed the following qualities of the Aware Ego experience:
Our relationship to time changes — in the Aware Ego, urgency disappears, as the urgency belongs to the selves, and correspondingly inertia disappears as well. A person experiencing the Aware Ego Process (even if it’s only for a few moments) is not pushed by her past or pulled by her future — that push/pull belongs to the selves.
We are aware of more options than we can normally perceive from the perspective of any one of the selves — it’s as if we put on new glasses that somehow widened as well as lengthened our vision. Aware Ego exercises choice based both on the complete story of what the opposite selves want (not just one side or the other) and an awareness that goes beyond what either side can see. It’s a common experience in the Aware Ego Process to think of completely new possibilities that just did not occur to us before we separated from the selves.
The Aware Ego showing up and being present with a vulnerable self (or any self) is in itself stabilizing and comforting. In a way, the Aware Ego does with the selves what most of our parents never did for us as children: it listens to the selves and takes each of them seriously. It acknowledges, for example, an inner child’s feelings and desires as real feelings and desires. Whether or not we can give this inner child what it wants, in Aware Ego we deeply acknowledge what it means to that self, how much it matters. At the same time, however, there is no agenda on the part of the Aware Ego, no attempt to comfort, placate, protect, cajole, etc., because again these behaviors/attitudes belong to the selves.
In Aware Ego there is not only movement out to the selves, but once we have separation we can also, from Aware Ego, invite the energies of the selves into the body. We can titrate these energies and shift them. We can choose to bring in only a small amount of an energy that may otherwise be overwhelming, or adjust where and how a particular self functions in the body. A self that is very tender and open, for example, may seem diametrically opposed to a judgmental protector that is all about holding strong to certain principles. Once we discover, though, that the energy of the first self lives in the heart area, and the second self would work really well “dialed down” and situated in the spine to give us strength and “backbone,” then we find that they can work together as wonderfully as heart and bone work together. Other modalities such as IFS, ARC, and Focusing definitely pay attention to the felt sense of the selves or energies in the physical body. I don’t believe, however, that these approaches work toward discovering and changing how these selves live in the body, nor do they create a way to hold two or more disparate energies together, and find a way to balance them energetically and physically even when, on a content/cognitive level, the selves do not agree with or like each other. This aspect of Voice Dialogue work is always done through the Aware Ego Process and can only be accomplished to the degree that Aware Ego is present. The Aware Ego Process is a radical transformation from an either/or consciousness to a both/and type of reality all the way through one’s whole being, including the physical body.
Self leadership in IFS and Self in Psychosynthesis seem to be so close to the Aware Ego because they are also seen as dynamic and evolving and not exactly another of the inner selves. In contrast, many other forms of therapy and personal growth encourage the idea of an adult self, nurturing self, parental self, etc., to take care of inner children. The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy, for example, works to “guide clients to establish three internal Resources: a Nurturing Adult Self, a Protective Adult Self, and a Spiritual Core Self”(DNMS Institute4 website). From a Voice Dialogue perspective, this might be seen as theoretically a good idea but very difficult to bring about. I suspect if it were likely that selves would be able to take care of each other consistently in this way, it might have become a more organic process of human development.
From a Voice Dialogue point of view, we perceive that the reasons this does not work well is because of the way in which the selves occupy the body and appropriate a larger or smaller share of the available energy. Just think of the last time you got really upset. What happened in your body? Did feelings well up and overflow in tears or burst through in a hot explosion of anger? Was there energy available in that moment for a Nurturing Parent self to come through and take action? From a Voice Dialogue perspective, we see all selves as unreliable in that they don’t have staying power; life happens, other selves are triggered, and the self we were counting on gets pushed out of the picture. Also, each of the selves has its own agenda and is likely to take a direction based on its own point of view. The Aware Ego Process, on the other hand, in part because it’s not a self and not subject to the same dynamics, has the capacity to remain present. Through Aware Ego we feel the emotional tidal pull of the selves without getting sucked out to sea. From the place of the Aware Ego there is the potential to develop, over time, more and more direct connection with vulnerable selves, creating a mature presence that can truly be relied on, in contrast to an “adult self” that might come and go.
Since the Aware Ego is always a process occurring between opposites, it has to deal with the fact that in trying to connect, perhaps with a vulnerable child, it’s likely that other selves will interrupt and try to short-circuit that connection. In an Aware Ego Process one connects with the selves that interrupt in the same way one connects with the inner child. From the Aware Ego’s place of separation from the selves, one can acknowledge their concerns — “the child will be too emotional, you’ll get lost in the child, the child will take too much time, it’s weak and unacceptable to feel emotion, etc. — and hold a balance/center between these selves. That is what the Aware Ego is all about — holding balance/center between opposites. Gradually the person evolves through practice to more and more ability to function and exercise choice at center in an Aware Ego process. From this place, the vulnerable selves finally experience a consistent “adult” presence, and they begin to count on that relationship. The other protective selves begin to relax a bit and gradually start to trust the person in the Aware Ego Process for support, i.e. begin to count on it to take care of the vulnerability in a different way than has happened in the past.
One process used a great deal in Voice Dialogue work is very similar to Psychosynthesis and to IFS — guiding a person sitting at center in the Aware Ego Process to connect with a particular young/vulnerable self (one encountered in the session). How they make that connection doesn’t matter; it could be anything from simply imagining extending energy toward the self, on one end of the spectrum, to seeing/feeling a literal child and experiencing an inner physical connection with that child on the other end. Whatever works — and what works can change during the guided process and in future attempts to connect with this self. It is a relationship between the person in her/his Aware Ego Process and the vulnerable child, and that relationship evolves. Many other forms of therapy use a similar process to take care of a vulnerable child “from an adult self.” Again, the difference is not the intent or even the way of connecting with the vulnerable inner child. The difference is that in Voice Dialogue we separate from the selves first, and do not attempt this kind of relationship with the child until there is enough Aware Ego Process available to do it.
This last comment about the Aware Ego process brings us right back around to our beginning observation that the natural tendency is to try and fit the unknown into the known. It is often an ongoing discomfort for people that Aware Ego is a process and not a self and that we are not in Voice Dialogue facilitation being encouraged to become it or identify with it. Unlike Schwartz’s clients, who claim that the “Self is who I really am,” Aware Ego remains an equal part of the consciousness process along with the selves and with awareness. The often-used analogy of Aware Ego functioning in a similar manner to an orchestra conductor is aptly applied. Without the many instruments of the selves, there would be no music regardless of how wonderfully the Aware Ego might be able to conduct. And without the audience of awareness, the performance of life would be unwitnessed and incomplete. Let’s look at both awareness and the conscious management of energies through the Aware Ego next.
Awareness as a Part of the Process
Under one name or another, Awareness, the ability to step outside oneself and simply notice what is going on from a nonattached place, is a key aspect of almost every personal growth and therapeutic modality, and certainly a part of spiritual practice as well. Voice Dialogue, however, gives Awareness its own physical place to stand (or sit) apart from both the selves and the Aware Ego/operating ego place at center. Moving into a separate place makes the experience of Awareness more real, just as moving into the selves makes them more real and embodied, and it also draws a very clear distinction between Awareness and Aware Ego. I do not believe this distinction is made clear in other modalities, which can lead to the confusion of thinking one has achieved separation from the selves because one has become aware of having these selves. Both Voice Dialogue and IFS realize that communication and inner relationship are needed to accomplish that separation, and Voice Dialogue would add the essential element of movement.
In Voice Dialogue, the Aware Ego draws on the perceptions that come through Awareness as well as on the experience of the selves in considering action and exercising choice, and it’s the combination of these three elements that comprise the consciousness model in the Psychology of the Aware Ego. It’s important to note that awareness in Voice Dialogue is a part of the consciousness process and not a goal of consciousness. To be aware and to be conscious are not the same thing, and Awareness is not made special or set up above the selves or the Aware Ego in value. In Voice Dialogue this leads to a fairly easy and consistent ability to access the Awareness level — easier because there is no attempt to stay there — and to not make oneself wrong or unenlightened when one is not aware.
Conscious Regulation of Energies
The ability to regulate and balance the energetic experience of the selves, as well as the exploration and balancing of personal and impersonal energies, is enormously helpful in successfully creating and holding boundaries. Other modalities also acknowledge the reality of the energetic nature of boundaries, but most do not teach the subject how to make these boundaries more effective by intentionally bringing in the energy that is missing and learning to hold it at a level that works well in both general and specific situations. This holding and blending of energies is perhaps more readily found in various approaches to working with subtle energies and energy medicine, not necessarily in any forms of therapy or specifically parts work (International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine website).
Voice Dialogue, we have already noted, pays special attention to the recognition of linkage as a palpable energetic connection between people. While other approaches definitely talk about “felt connection” on both an inner and outer level, Voice Dialogue helps us to recognize which selves naturally create an energetic link with other people, and which are completely lacking in that ability. There is no attempt to get non-linking selves to be more connected. Instead they are honored for their contribution in other areas. Overly linking selves are also not shamed for becoming enmeshed or “codependent.” It is the job of the person in the Aware Ego Process to create a living balance that will allow for both connection and boundaries.
This has considerable consequences for human relationships, which often founder on unconscious nonverbal energetic communication. If one person is communicating ideas without any linkage, just the mind in gear, it might not feel very good to the person receiving this communication. Without linkage, the listener might ignore the content of the communication because he just doesn’t want to receive the gift of information wrapped in an uncomfortable or disconnected energetic package. Learning to hold in the Aware Ego Process a combination of an unlinked mental self focused on content and another self whose focus is linkage with the other person changes all that. The result is quite different from the kind of communication we’re too often used to, which either delivers a download of information without any felt connection, or avoids talking about information for fear that would be too heady and might break linkage with the other person. In the Aware Ego Process, holding both sides, one may speak more slowly, listen more, feel the other person and how they are receiving the communication, and still be able to address issues and get the verbal message across.
Voice Dialogue also goes one step further in opening energetically to people who hold our disowned selves, i.e. people whose behavior we judge negatively or overvalue. Instead of remaining a victim to someone else’s aggressive behavior, for example, I can use imagination to bring in a tiny amount of their aggressive energy, just enough to give me more backbone and help me hold my ground in their presence. This approach of bringing energy into the body in order to claim it and hold a balance is unique to Voice Dialogue. It bypasses issues of judging the opposites and gives us a creative way to deal with difficult disowned energies.
The Role of the Facilitator in Voice Dialogue Work
The Voice Dialogue facilitator essentially shepherds a process that is not under her control, and she does not hold preconceived ideas of the selves or try to fit them into predetermined categories. This requires both genuine curiosity and a certain humility, as well as openness, imagination, and intuition. In addition, the work is open-ended, improvisational, and depends on the ongoing dedication of the facilitator to surrender to the process and do her own personal work. Because Aware Ego is an ongoing process, neither facilitator nor client can say that she has achieved an Aware Ego. It can become an interesting challenge then to work in a field where in a sense you cannot truly arrive, cannot become degreed or certified. Instead of completing certain requirements for certification, the key requirement for all facilitators in Voice Dialogue work is to be facilitated on an ongoing basis.
The facilitator in Voice Dialogue has to be adept at energy shifts inside him-/herself and at recognizing them when they happen in the subject. One cannot rely on the subject at center to report back to the facilitator what is happening with the selves as in IFS, Psychosynthesis, and other ways of working internally, because here the facilitator is in direct relationship to the selves. It is a bit like entering a foreign country, minding your manners, finding out what is/isn’t acceptable in relating to the inhabitants, getting an understanding of the politics there (the dynamics between selves), and building enough of a relationship so that they will want to talk with you. One cannot come in with an attitude of “I know what you people need.” In Voice Dialogue, unlike IFS, one has to observe the protocol in each person’s self system, so one cannot ask a self to “step back.” My sense is this works well in IFS because the request is coming from the subject to one of their selves, and not directly from the therapist/facilitator. Where IFS would ask a self to step back so it’s possible to hear from and get to know another self, Voice Dialogue would separate first from whatever self is present, and wait for there to be an organic way to move to the next self.
It’s small wonder that working in this way with selves comprises a very small part of the general fields of personal growth and clinical therapeutic work. It takes more effort on the part of the facilitator/therapist to: 1) develop many relationships with different selves and not just with the client; 2) step out of the therapeutic relationship when working with selves, with a resulting loss of position of expert (person who has it all together); and 3) realize that this kind of work necessitates the facilitator doing his own separating from selves in order to be able to be present in the Aware Ego Process (or Self leadership process).
The facilitator must not only hold unqualified honoring of all selves without any negative or positive judgments but must also be able to meet each self in its own world and match its energy. The same deep respect that is given to the client in all modalities is given as well to the selves in Voice Dialogue work. This is quite different from most therapeutic models. The Voice Dialogue facilitator has no expectation or goal of changing any self, no problems to solve or resolve. The work is essentially practical as well as profound, and is more about skills, practice, and awareness than about problem solving. The goal for the facilitator is to help clients develop an Aware Ego Process to the point where they no longer need a facilitator to hold that process for them. Because of this, many facilitators market themselves as teachers or coaches rather than as therapists.
Hal and Sidra Stone comment: “The facilitator is an explorer, an interested observer who is trying to discover as much as possible about each self. The selves are extremely sensitive to the feelings and judgments of the facilitator, and they will not respond if they sense disapproval or manipulation. This is a method that will not work effectively unless it is used with a proper attitude. When it is used properly, however, it provides quick and easy access to much of the psyche” (Stone, H. and S., 1994).
There is, of course, an art to facilitation, and some people do truly have a natural talent for it — sensitivity to energies, and a mind given to piecing these particular kinds of puzzles together. Without this natural ability, learning all the moves, going through the programs, or even being regularly facilitated might not lead to inspired work. This is true, of course, of every modality, but for Voice Dialogue, without any stamp of approval through certification, each facilitator is in the same boat with the people he facilitates — all working day by day, bit by bit, to develop an Aware Ego Process.
Voice Dialogue as an Evolutionary, Improvisational Process
If I do my work well as a Voice Dialogue facilitator, my clients will feel it is they who created the changes in their lives, and Voice Dialogue was just a tool they used to accomplish that. What each person uses Voice Dialogue for is different (part of what keeps the work so exciting for me). It could be a shift in decision-making, relationship improvement, or a boost to creativity. One client rebalances the energies of the selves and finally completes a dissertation ten years in the making; another reconciles age-old differences in the family, and then moves into better self-care and better physical health. A third stops being taken for a ride over and over again by Aphrodite, and learns to contain that divine energy and focus it within the context of a deep relationship. For each and every one, facilitator and subject, it’s an individual journey.
Like many of the approaches we have been discussing, Voice Dialogue is a psycho-spiritual process for the development of consciousness. Dreams and connection to the unconscious and to the “deeper intelligence of the universe” are fundamental to this work. Unlike many spiritual practices that aim toward developing consciousness, in this process there is no relinquishing of selves (ego) in order to become conscious, and there is no abandoning of the psychological in order to become spiritual. Consciousness is a different kind of goal from problem solving, functionality, even integration. Consciousness may result in some of the same things, such as better balance, more peace of mind, freedom, choice, etc., but because the path to these is different (without judgment or the placing of values), the result feels different and is lived differently.
In summary we might say that Voice Dialogue is more like jazz — the basic riffs are present as principles of the work, but everyone will invent her own take on it. It remains an uncontainable and open-source method. If it were certified, it might be more like classical music, and all facilitators would be trained to play the same standardized notes. Instead, Voice Dialogue is a process that complicates rather than simplifies; i.e. it allows for the natural complexity to unfold, so that selves that may have formerly manifested only as vague yearnings or perhaps repeated phrases or annoying habits can now unfold into story, history, and meaning. It makes me think of the beauty, rich taste, vibrancy, and health of the environment that comes with organic farming. Each plant/self has its own intrinsic way to grow, and if we limit it, declare how it has to grow, then the biggest loss is never finding out what it would have done on its own. At a time when we are losing diversity everywhere, it feels so precious that this work honors and preserves an inner diversity of the soul.
Finally, although Voice Dialogue shares many of its characteristics with other modalities (with the exception of the physical separation of selves, aspects of the Aware Ego process, and through that process the regulation of energies), what ultimately differentiates it from all of them is the unique package of all these elements together. Like each of the approaches to which we have been comparing Voice Dialogue, the work itself has a personality that is the sum and more of all the qualities we have been discussing, and it is this personality that attracts certain kinds of selves and discourages others. Perhaps next time you encounter someone who thinks Voice Dialogue must be just like something they already know, you might say simply that it is related to other work, in the same family, but it has an energy and life all it’s own. “Perhaps if you are interested, I can introduce you in person.”
1. Since it is the most commonly used term in Voice Dialogue, I have chosen to use the word “self” (or “selves”) to represent inner selves, parts, sub-personalities, energies, complexes, etc. I have also deliberately not capitalized self or selves so as to keep a clear distinction between this term and the word “Self” that is used in Psychosynthesis and IFS to mean something quite different from parts, selves, and sub-personalities.
2. My understanding of and references to other modalities are based on conversations with practitioners, publicly available writings about the work from printed sources, official websites, recorded interviews, and some experiences in being facilitated in IFS, Psychosynthesis, Gestalt, and ARC. With IFS and ARC, I have traded sessions so that I could both experience these modalities and hear from my colleagues their comparison of their experience of Voice Dialogue with their own work.
3. One could also make comparisons to many other forms of therapy, personal growth, and consciousness work: body-centered modalities such as Hakomi and Focusing come to mind.
Berne, Eric. I’ve drawn my information on Transactional Analysis theory and diagrams from the following websites: <www.itaa-net.org/> <www.ericberne.com/transactional_analysis_description.htm>, <www.businessballs.com/transactionalanalysis.htm>
Voice Dialogue International website: <www.voicedialogue.org>
Houston, Jean. Recorded telling of the Myth of Inanna,
<www.jeanhouston.org>, audiovisual room, April 23, 2007
International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. The work of the ISSSEEM is founded on the work of Elmer and Alyce Green, pioneers in “understanding and facilitating the use of subtle energies, both for therapeutic purposes and for the study of human potential….” <www.issseem.org/about.cfm>.
Mipham, Sakyong. “Becoming a Buddhist.” Shambhala Sun, <http://tinyurl.com/yd2l2tv, 2000.
Schwartz, R. Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model. Oak Park, Illinois: Trailheads Publications, pp. 44–57, 2001.
Schwartz, R. “Conversations.” In Prengel, S. (ed.), Somatics Perspectives Series. United States Association for Body Psychotherapy, 2010.
Stone, H. and S. Stone. “The Psychology of the Aware Ego.” Psychotherapy in Australia, Voice Dialogue International, 1994.
The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy Institute, www.dnmsinstitute.com/index.html#brief>