“Open Dialogue has evolved because of a series of psychotherapeutic theories, philosophical and psychological concepts. This article will tell you more.”
I was anxious in relation to the second week of the International Open Dialogue Training in Helsinki, we had been asked to prepare some personal pieces of work for the 3 days of family work in the later part of that week's course and concerns had been expressed about what would be appropriate. We were asked to consider a piece of writing, art, a play, poem etc that was meaningful to us and to discuss it in our small, training groups for approximately an hour. I chose to talk about Edmund White's trilogy of books published in the 80's and 90's that discuss his early life and difficulty as a gay man, his lifelong encounters with psychotherapists and the decimation of his circle of friends through the HIV/AIDS crisis. The last book in the trilogy " The Farewell Symphony" is the longest of the 3 books and the one for me that has particular significance as I can relate it to my own experience of HIV in London and mentoring at the London Lighthouse. I found it emotional discussing this aspect of my past on the course and the significance these books had in the parallel processes that ran for me in relation to White's use of drugs and alcohol, sex, HIV and the loss of many friends.
We also had to prepare a genogram for our smaller groups and discuss it within the group. I had only once before prepared a genogram on an Open Dialogue Course and I was anxious to fulfil the criteria correctly although this was not the important factor for the personal work but is for us as trainers. I actually found this exercise quite difficult as I had little knowledge of my extended family prior to the last few years and this I must keep in mind may well be a difficulty for our trainees. It was not however an exercise in researching one's family history but on discussing what I perceived to be the relevant themes which I clarified as I spoke and elaborated on my chart.
That being said researching the family history had resulted in a number of issues arising which I had been unaware of and which I feel were certainly pertinent to my view of myself in the world and family themes and patterns. I had decided to colour code my family tree to illustrate different nationalities and their migration to Australia and who had actually been born in Australia after the migration from Ireland as a result of the potato famine. This famine decimated Europe in the 1840's and 50's and resulted in 2 million people leaving Ireland for England, America or Australia members of my ancestors belonged to that group of migrants and this changed their lives and fortunes but was by in large a positive experience.
It felt very focusing for me to expand in this Open Dialogue training on my thinking in relation to the impact my family and antecedents had on me and the general discussion that occurred amongst my colleagues gave me cause to reflect. There were themes that arose and issues that seemed relevant that I had not hitherto considered and the questioning by my group in a supportive way helped me to reflect further. The Open Dialogue course also encouraged me to consider the importance of the social network and bringing the polyphony of voices from both the present and the past. It was an extremely emotional 2 days for my training group and my colleagues and myself shed tears and were comforted appropriately. We are however a group of seasoned professionals with considerable experience in and understanding of Open Dialogue. Experiences I had witnessed whilst mentoring groups in the past on Open Dialogue courses made me reflect that this exercise must be clearly explained and well supported with boundaries clarified and appropriate responses explored. Otherwise this could be an unhelpful or destructive process for the individual if they perceived themselves as being criticised or misunderstood. I have come away from this last week with much to consider and additional family work to reflect on and explore and clearer about the impact of Open Dialogue and it's relationship with family therapy.
Author Bio: Jane Hetherington, Principal Psychotherapist at KMPT and an employee at Early Intervention Services in Kent, has completed Open Dialogue course and will be a part of the new Open Dialogue service. She is trained as an integrative psychotherapist and has experience working in primary care, substance misuse, and psychosis services. Here, she writes about a few psychotherapeutic theories.