From diabolical to dialogical ...

Posted: Friday 22nd May 2020

After last night’s BBQ, a few sausages survived uncooked. My son saw an opportunity and requested a breakfast of sausage sandwich. My partner looked up from his Weetabix: ‘Throw me one in and I’ll eat it cold later.’ ‘No!’ I cried ‘Sausages are too marvellous hot from the pan to be squandered cold for lunch.’ A moment passed…. ‘But I’m the one eating it.’ he said. His point dawned on me and I threw another sausage in the pan for later consumption. Breakfast talk had shifted from the diabolical language of sausage preference oppression to something different. This shift made a difference to what would happen.

Much is said about what it means to be dialogical in systemic psychotherapy and in organisational theory contexts. Many of us are trying to communicate about this thing which is tricky to articulate, and yet important to share. Our understanding is that it is a different kind of talking. It is talking together, not alone in the form of ‘telling’. It is the talking of discovery rather than the talking of transmitting ‘what I’ve decided you need to realise.’. It is the talking of creativity, emergence of new ideas, of sharing power and co-production.

Why does this matter? When we speak together dialogically, we can generate effective ways forward in the face of complex problems. Problems that don’t become solved by applying solutions that are already clear and have worked in other situations. At MyST, we do this to address complex and distressing mental health problems. By talking dialogically with children and everyone else involved in a child’s life, we, together with our partners, have been able to find ways forward which have involved radical changes in children’s distress and how they behave as a consequence of their inner worlds. These changes bring with them other changes to the life chances available to children, which will so affect their futures, such as living in a family rather than an institution, going to ordinary schools with other children, and being more solid in their Welsh identities by growing up in ‘The Land of Our Fathers’.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been happy to hear some really positive feedback from a few families who have made massive changes, and have wanted to tell us something about it. It struck us that all of the families said a version of the same thing: ‘Things have changed and part of this change is that we can see that you professionals understand us better, differently, and more like we know ourselves to be.’. To us it sounded like families said ‘You have been changed along with us and that was necessary for the changes we’ve made to happen. It’s also a sure sign that change really has happened.’.

You know you’ve experienced dialogical talking when all of those involved have been changed by the process.

Thanks for the feedback families.

Jen & Jael

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