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r The Association for Family Therapy 2006.

Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Journal of Family Therapy (2006) 28: 370–387
0163-4445 (print); 1467-6427 (online)

Hypotheses are dialogues: sharing hypotheses
with clients

Paolo Bertrandoa and Teresa Arcellonia

The use of systemic hypotheses in therapy has been criticized on the
ground that it promotes the expert position of the therapist and tends to
underplay the role of the client in the therapeutic process. In this article,
we propose to view the systemic hypothesis as a collaborative action,
involving the dialogue between therapists and clients. This interactive
hypothesis is created by the very interaction of all participants in the
therapeutic dialogue, and as such it may be considered a dialogue in itself.
The article articulates a way of hypothesizing that is consistent with both
systemic and dialogic premises, and presents some examples of the
process in action.

The systemic hypothesis is but one example of a process which is
probably universal in therapy: the process of making sense of what
happens both within the therapeutic encounter and in the lives of
clients (see Frank and Frank, 1991). In the pages that follow, we will
deal mostly with this kind of therapeutic hypothesis, which shows a
number of distinctive features. The most important is that, according
to the concept of systemic hypothesis proposed by the original Milan
Team, it is impossible to know the reality of a person or a family. We
may just make a hypothesis about it, which ‘is, per se, neither true nor
false, it is simply either more or less useful’ (Selvini Palazzoli et al.,
1980, p. 215). Although we still use the hypothesizing process in our
clinical practice, the sense we give to hypotheses, and the very way of
formulating them, has undergone a change. The extent and origins of
such a change are the subject of this article.

Ezio, or the hypothetical partner
Our way of hypothesizing changed for two main reasons, one ethical
and the other practical. We would like to give an example of the
a
Episteme Centre, Turin, Italy
Corresponding address: Paolo Bertrando, MD, Ph.D., Piazza S.Agostino, 22, 20123 Milan, Italy.
E-mail: gilbert@fastwebnet.it.

r 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice

you say you married a woman you were never very involved with . . The therapeutic team. . The idea emerges. Ezio is burdened by such a huge responsibility. ‘we were struck by the non-motives you talked about. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . . but maybe for you it is too painful to say what you were looking for in your wife?’ Ezio is more and more puzzled. The encounter with Ezio comes from aborted couple therapy: his wife declined to participate. almost turning her back on the two colleagues. substituting for them something more rational. and the result was an individual therapy centred on a couple problem. playing unceasingly with his wedding ring while he asks for ‘advice’ about what he should do. the atmosphere is red hot. although according to Ezio: ‘The problem it’s me . Divorce? Reconcile? Stay together for his daughter’s sake? Cohabitate with his wife as ‘separated at home’? The therapists – two women in training – ask hypothetical questions about the future. we feel the need to share with Ezio the process that dictated the intervention. as if he cannot understand the supervisor’s point. to be single’. answers Ezio. the therapy appears incomplete to everybody. he must know our intentions!’ We decide that the teacher will go back to Ezio. maybe your wife helps you to dampen your emotion and suffering. Ezio. . She enters and sits beside a surprised Ezio. ‘I would like her . A colleague says: ‘It is like we laid an ambush for him. together with the two therapists. His eyes go from one woman to the other in the room. . Without such a sharing. . about the characteristics a woman with whom he would like to share his life should have. Hypotheses are dialogues 371 former reason. He is tense and restless. It is like there were some emotional knots you put aside. mostly constituted of young female trainees. however. cannot restrain its indignation towards this 40-year-old man with such a scarce consideration of women. Our prejudice is that a man always looks for something in a woman.’ Apparently. through a clinical encounter. she was supposed to ‘embody the emotions’ in order to bring into the room the parts of his stories which for some reason he r 2006 The Authors. bewildered but interested. In the discussion behind the mirror.’ she says. my difficult disposition. with her presence. We decide that the female teacher (the second author) will enter the therapy room in order to ‘embody the emotions’. that our client is emotionally blocked. to tell him openly that. a little puzzled. . How do you feel with those knots? We feel a strong suffering you hardly talk about . and that the block is now extending to the therapists. . That’s not fair. listens to her: ‘Behind the mirror. which happened during a training course in systemic therapy held by one of us. Behind the mirror.

in a dialogue. especially if the conversation deals with a certain problem. And this process led us to a further step. one person may be considered ‘aggressive’. The training context was instrumental in bringing forth the change. We can say. But to fully understand such evolution. Peirce calls this process ‘abduction’. We can distin- guish. Another distinction is between explicative and process hypotheses. the therapist should ideally formulate relational and process hypotheses. between ontological and relational hypotheses: the first ones refer to the being of individuals. Not all hypotheses are the same. the latter to ‘how’ (see Rober. especially for individual therapy. we tend to create hypotheses when confronted with something difficult to under- stand. although it is impossible to abstain completely from ontological and explicative ones. isn’t it?’ What happened here tended to happen more and more frequently. and tends to allow that point of view to enter the discourse (the world) of the other. at the same time. Ezio listens attentively to these words. The idea was that unveiling the whole hypothesizing process to clients could make the power balance between therapists and clients more ethical. Another distinction concerns the use of hypotheses within the dialogue. we think it is impossible not to have hypotheses within any dialogue. which is the field of our clinical work. because it also responded to a practical need. or her aggressive behaviour may be considered within its interper- sonal context). Everybody. the second ones to the relation- ship between them (e. The therapist and her hypothesis First of all. leaving the term ‘hypothesis’ to relational ones. that it is impossible to enter a dialogue without ideas r 2006 The Authors. 2002). thus. because trainees tend to be extremely attentive to the unfolding of interactions between therapists and clients. solving. this way of working spread in our everyday practice. he says: ‘A kind of shock therapy. We may say that the former refers to ‘why’. As semiologist Charles Sanders Peirce (1931–1958) puts it. with some relief.372 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni tended to omit. then.g. which is sharing the hypothesizing process with the clients at the moment it happens. When something does not fit with our frame of reference. In systemic therapy. We choose to call ontological hypotheses ‘ideas’. we build a hypothesis in order to deal with it. first. has a point of view. some stuck situations as the one we presented here. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Gradually. though. we must first turn to the relation- ship between the hypothesis and therapeutic dialogue and to the different versions of it.

The team dialogue becomes open. Tom Andersen (1987). Within the reflecting team. 1987). p. Listening to each other. makes a crucial move in the evolution of the therapeutic dialogue. 13). mostly. it was also provisional. to them. opinions about what clients said. therapists talk. For the first time ever. introducing and stressing differences. Such a practice. Although the hypothesis of the early Milan team (Selvini Palazzoli et al. Others use their hypotheses to open the conversation. Selvini Palazzoli et al. the evolution of systemic therapy is the evolution in the role of hypotheses.. the speakers strive to confirm their hypotheses. Some therapists use their hypotheses in order to drive the conversation.. In a way. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Clients react to an intervention based on a hypothesis. Hypotheses are dialogues 373 or hypotheses. leads to an eclipse of the hypo- thesis. r 2006 The Authors. without any possibility of reading the actual ‘reality’ of a family or client. Even within the most open dialogue. ‘neither true or false’. 1980) was explicative. trying to steer in a predefined direction. Hypotheses were omitted if possible’ (Andersen. consciously or not. The first position was prevalent in the early years of systemic therapies. more ready to acknowledge the positive aspects of the presented situations. all the actors in the double dialogue become more respectful. with the aim of making them feel understood and legitimized. considered as approximations to actual reality (Haley. while the process of listening comes to the forefront. 1976. and. introducing his reflecting team.. In the public discussion of the team. but do not try to build systemic hypotheses. They offer. the therapeutic team opens to clients its sancta sanctorum leaving secrecy behind. 1978). According to Andersen: ‘One way to achieve this was to avoid to have any ideas beforehand. putting forward different points of view. this interplay between discourses can have very different characteristics. remains unknown). at the same time. The systemic hypothesis belongs solely to the therapeutic team. though. In a therapeutic dialogue. 1991. derived from team interaction. but it remains secret: the team builds up an explanation that must stay secret in order to ‘cure’. it becomes a process hypothesis. The therapists become more respectful towards clients. the tone of comments changes. discuss. and not directly to the hypothesis (which. The therapist presents herself as a person who knows but does not say. Strategic therapists had explicative hypotheses. In Luigi Boscolo’s and Gianfranco Cecchin’s version of the Milan hypothesis (see Boscolo et al. the second in later years. and abandon the tendency to immediate action that systemic therapy had inherited from its strategic predecessors.

systemic hypotheses tend to create relational discourses. 1968). and theorizes a ‘not-knowing’ position for the therapist. of Carl Rogers’ client-centred approach (see Anderson. where the main subject is relationships. 1992. In the classic systemic model.e. better. For example. Our hypotheses tend to be process hypotheses. From the point of view of setting. they are advised and even forced to make them. and. Ander- son. Italian critical psychiatry (Basaglia. From the point of view of process. 1 Although the historically minded reader could find in it echoes of Laing’s anti- psychiatry (Laing. 2001). we must keep in mind two dimensions: setting and process. Conversational therapy eliminates both hypothesizing process and team discussion. We believe. 1997) are the most straightforward followers of the postmodern imperative: give voice to clients and diminish the (hierarchical) differences between them and the therapist. that a hypothesis can be used that way. Hypotheses of this kind do not close the dialogue finding a cause and a problem-solving strategy. 1968).374 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni Conversational therapists (Anderson and Goolishian. but that it can also be used – as we use it – as a way to create a conversational field. on different grounds. but rather they open it. dialogues How can the hypotheses be articulated in the therapeutic dialogue? To understand this. Therapists are not only allowed to make hypotheses. the issue is whether or not to use ideas and hypotheses (or. but strictly within the team dialogue. the dialogue between therapist and client is separated from the dialogue within the therapeutic team. Hypotheses. instead.1 but it has sometimes been interpreted (even against their originators’ intention) as an exhortation to the therapist to abstain from any definite idea or hypothesis. related to how (in which kind of possible world) the issues presented in the dialogue exist. although with some limits: they select some discourse fields rather than others. This is a seminal innovation. the issue is the separation between therapeutic (i. to do it explicitly). therapist–client) dialogue and team dialogue. and it may sometimes be better to abandon them and use non-systemic hypotheses instead. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . teams. Probably most reflecting team and conversational therapists are averse to hypotheses because they consider hypotheses as strategic instruments to drive the client in a pre-established direction. and at the same time a way of defining a presumably ‘objective’ reality once and for all. r 2006 The Authors.

not to have hypotheses. This means that clients become more active in directing the course of therapy. going back and forth. in classic systemic therapy. We could say that the therapist needs to build a sort of inner mirror in order not to see the ideas and hypotheses she is unwittingly constructing. the reflecting team model involves two distinct dialogues (one between the active therapist and the clients. or does not want to. which the systemic therapist cannot. Our goal is to eliminate the separateness of dialogues (the real and metaphoric mirrors). there are no mirrors. In comparison. The one-way mirror is a barrier that only the active therapist can trespass. the clients and the therapist can only listen and. as. r 2006 The Authors. Hypotheses are dialogues 375 Clients are not allowed to participate in the team dialogue or to listen directly to the hypotheses as such. This we try to obtain by sharing our hypotheses with the clients. a metaphor – the important thing is the ‘inner’ mirror. these therapists make a considerable effort in order not to start from preconceived ideas or hypotheses. 1988). but they never can participate in them – in other words. From the point of view of process. There is just one dialogue between therapist(s) and client(s) where no hypothesis is formulated and the therapist just ‘keeps open the conversation’ (Anderson and Goolishian. conversely. another among the observers) but there is no direct communication between the two sides of the mirror. relinquish. Here the mirror is. What emerges in the therapist’s mind is shared with the client in the very moment of its emergence. This has radical 2 Rober (2002) brings back the hypothesis in conversational therapy. in this open dialogue stance. Apparently. In the conversational model.2 What we find problematic in such a position is the possibility for the therapist. when they dialogue. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . they listen to the therapist’s final intervention. acting as intermediary between team and clients. The difference is that they listen to a discussion instead of an intervention devised behind the mirror. they cannot alter the course of the dialogue. the observers stay silent. while at the same time keeping the hypothesiz- ing process. since the active therapist always stays in the therapy room. above all. The clients listen to the observing team’s words. When the observers talk among themselves. They may afterwards reflect on the team’s reflections. the therapist should not have ideas – especially in the form of definite hypotheses – which could influence clients or ‘suggest’ to them what to do. to be on an equal footing with the client. but refers just to the ‘inner dialogue’ of the therapist – the hypothesis cannot be an issue to discuss between therapists and clients.

that within the therapeutic conversation a hypothesis emerges that I. it is the dialogue (and vice versa). I am teaming up with her.. as if we are a reflecting team without other fellow therapists. We could summarize the change by saying that in the beginning we. following Bateson. suggest on the basis of some element provided by the clients. The hypothesis does not follow from the dialogue. see Laplanche and Pontalis (1967). when I build my hypothesis together with the client. as therapist. What makes a therapy a therapy is exactly the specificity of the conditions of a non-everyday dialogue. For some transcribed examples. 1942) a systemic way of reasoning. 3 For the concept of psychoanalytical interpretation.3 By co-evolving hypotheses in this way. of what I am doing and where I am going). In systemic individual therapy (see Boscolo and Bertrando. see Gill (1982). the client could learn (or deutero-learn. as systemic therapists. 1995). today. 1996). we had an internalized team (Boscolo et al. everyday conversation? We might say that the very definition of a therapeutic relationship is the therapeutic frame. r 2006 The Authors. In other words. better. from the point of view not only of ethics. until the final hypothesis (if it emerges) becomes a sort of common heritage for all of us.376 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni consequences in the relationship between therapists and clients. in fact. improve it. I pass from one side of the mirror to the other. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . together with the clients. it is still the therapist who should have an idea of how to lead the dialogue (I should have some idea. Bertrando (2002). A therapy is a therapy because it is defined by a relationship where the rules of everyday relationship are suspended (Bertrando. The hypothesis is a dialogue A hypothesis may catalyse possibilities for evolution when the hy- pothesizing process happens within a therapeutic frame. What emerges from this process is still a hypothesis. that is. This is the main difference from an analytical interpretation. Although the client is asked to be very active in the hypothesiz- ing process. see Gill and Hoffman (1982). as far as possible. what is the difference between a therapeutic dialogue and a commonplace. For its use in transference analysis. for both clients and therapists. we team up with our clients. but also of the therapeutic process. not a truth. which is grounded in a firm authority principle. But how is such a frame defined? Or. a hypothesis which lives and exists as a dialogue. This means. then. had a real team with us. We may well define this kind of hypothesis as a dialogical hypo- thesis. 2006). Then I.

Moreover. what happens within the therapeutic frame would be real only within that frame. because different frames are successfully shared. But the therapeutic frame. 2002). 1953) The above statement may not necessarily apply however. because all human beings live in a world made predictable by the rules defined by a frame. is also an everyday dialogue. any real systemic hypothesis is a dialogue. Thus therapy is an encounter of frames. the one brought by the therapist and the one brought by the client. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Here. however. the two person do not operate in vacuo and it is therefore possible that operating upon shared rules and frames they reach a point at which they stub their toes upon the environment. The rules and frames may than be called in question. Indeed. two persons operating with discrepant system of rules and/or discrepant frames. but creativity and novelty may emerge only by going outside of the known frames. and if the rules and frames are shared there will be no change. is not born in a void. building real systemic hypotheses becomes impossible. On the other hand. Cultural stability depends upon shared rules and frames. in turn. it is impossible to organize them when the interlocutors are deaf to each other. If they are not. Rather than hypotheses. In this sense. may be so frustrated in their attempts to communicate that the rules of one or both person are ultimately called in question. it is easy to hear gossip or individual bravura pieces that are not caught by anybody else and can hardly coalesce into hypo- theses. and would not be transferred ‘outside’ (in ‘real’ life). The actors of the therapeutic dialogue. there can be no communication. to r 2006 The Authors. namely therapists and clients. A therapist who builds hypotheses on her own relies on her inner dialogue (see Rober. If the rules and frames are not shared. We often see such a process in the teamwork of very inexperienced systemic trainees. bring their own respective ways of framing their worlds to the conversation. We may say that a therapy is only successful when what emerges within its frame is somewhat transferred to life outside the therapy room. If it were not. (Bateson. But the inner dialogue is in itself monodic rather than polyphonic. It is easier to organize ideas in hypotheses if we develop the ability to listen to what our inter- locutors have to say. Hypotheses are dialogues 377 The therapeutic dialogue. The different voices of the inner dialogue always tend to be fused in one single voice which will originate ideas (ontological hypotheses) rather than relational hypotheses.

The speaker strives to get a reading on his own word. 288–289. pp. see also Bakhtin. 1935/1981. 282) r 2006 The Authors. of languages) is characterized by a twofold dimension. p. 1935/1981. to Bakhtin. rather than a dialogue between persons. the clients’ hypotheses – means to open our frame. a centrifugal force exists that leads to a condition Bakhtin names ‘heteroglossia’ (raznorecie). within the alien conceptual system of the understanding receiver. a polyphonic cohabitation of different discourses and different visions. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . the world of language (or. against his. At the same time. accepting that the language (the world) of the other will enter into ours. constructs his own utterance on alien territory. . means different conceptions and experiences of the world). 262–263). 1935/1981. Heteroglossia guarantees the vitality of languages. apperceptive background. The important thing is ‘dialogization’. the listener’s. which are alive only in dialogue. and would die (become still and fruitless) in uniformity. that is. In any time and place. the idiosincratic individual discourses. from which possibly a new vision (a new language) may emerge. 1986). The speaker breaks through the alien conceptual horizon of the listener. We may define our therapy as ‘dialogic’ only if the therapeutic conversation acquires the characteristics of dialogue according to Bakhtin (see also Seeikkula. but where the difference of discourses is accepted anyway.378 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni share and discuss our own hypotheses with the clients – while accepting. pp. that is to say the co-presence of different languages: ‘A diversity of social speech types (sometimes even diver- sity of languages) and a diversity of individual voices. and on his own conceptual system that determines this word. there is a centripetal force that drives language towards unification and uniformity. but a poly- phony of speech genres. where speech genres concern the different social groups. The striving to persuade the inter- locutor to accept my point of view is substituted with the nurture of an active understanding on his part. of course. According to Mikhail Bakhtin (1935/1981). the ways of speaking and writing. he enters into dialogical relation- ship with certain aspects of this system. This constitutes not a unity. . better. 2003). this internal stratification [is] present in any language at any given moment of its historical existence’ (Bakhtin. however. (Bakhtin. which give form to shared speech (Bakhtin. which means. in the sense that anything that is said is assimilated by the listener in a new conceptual system. a dialogue between different languages (which.

and she may cure us of solipsism – a professional malaise which all therapists risk. r 2006 The Authors. She has been in therapy with the first author for almost a year. maybe even clash. she lives with her parents. emotion. to be deeply moved 4 For a criticism of conscious purpose. 1994). Maurizio. Although in distinct spheres. especially at the beginning of therapy. Of course.4 ‘Not knowing’ may thus become ‘knowing together’. of her unavoidable position within a power system (Foucault. is an architect who works for a public agency. within this process. Bateson and Bakhtin raise a similar problem. However. as it would probably be in most Anglo-Saxon countries. An only child and single. 5 Such a condition is rather common in Italy. of her responsibility (Bianciardi and Bertrando. of her pre- judices (Cecchin et al.5 and has an official fiancé. in systemic individual therapy. that is. because the client is the only possible interlocutor. the hypothesis organizes such ideas through a dialogue with the therapist. 2002). Hypotheses are dialogues 379 The therapist not only works on the relationships the client is embedded in. White. see also Guilfoyle (2003) for an analysis of power in dialogical therapy). 1995. the dialogical work around her hypotheses and those of her therapist may make her aware of prejudices. and Harries-Jones (1995). 2003. 1968b). but also on her inner dialogue (or her ability to have an inner dialogue). how can we evade the tendency to uniformity and repetition? One solution is dialogue. which she did not know beforehand.. see Bateson (1968a. For the client who is stuck in her ideas and explanations. This means that sharing hypotheses with clients may be necessary. Here a substantial difference remains between therapist and client. a constitutive part of the therapeutic dialogue. where this therapy was conducted. nor by the other. and it is not to be considered an anomaly. the therapist must be aware. took for granted. This is why the hypothesis. It is necessary that the visions and experiences of the world of therapist and client can meet. or did not fully understand. A clinical case: Diana Diana. should enter explicitly into the conversation. although she has rather frequent affairs with other men. 33. for what she defines as her inability to feel emotion. and bring forward the emergence of novelty not completely guided (submitted to conscious purpose) by the one. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . The latter may well be unaware of all these dimensions. positions. thus also allowing the development of her own inner dialogue.

the therapist tackled her emotional anaesthesia. when we went around. My mother has three sisters. During the therapy. Her feeling of unsteadiness surfaces. but every time she appears distressed. . but rather a dim idea of how she feels. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Diana [D]: Well. and I was wondering why I could not receive the same things. I was thinking about an image from my childhood. there was a little party.’ She is a ‘good client’. This r 2006 The Authors. other things. . now. . Sometimes I hated her presence. always punctual for her hour. together with her reflections about her relationship with her fiancé. the party. She seemed convinced that she knew me. my mother made me feel different. . . the same presents as my cousins. and I hated not being the same as my cousins. she states.380 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni by something. to feel her own desires. I remember some red slacks. for example. etcetera. because my mother . I remember. a couple she perceived as cold but unstable. but when there was a birthday. to the therapist’s question: ‘What do you really want?’ she has answered: ‘I don’t know. I don’t know . she has absolutely nothing to say. During an encounter in an advanced phase of the therapy. though I was with my aunts. T: I feel it wasn’t that your mother was convinced she knew you. I am starting to think about those years. unemotional presence to stay together. . because she liked them. who appears. Diana puts some themes on the table. and the feeling of a connection between her reaction to Maurizio’s proposals and her past experience with her parents. as usual. . their siblings. connecting it to her relationship with her parents. nothing special. There are scenes I remember with my mother. not to be convinced of her commitment to him. ? The same things. This is not a clear-cut hypothesis. It was irritating. the presents. if I knew I would not be here. This feeling of being different. a real broody hen. needing her calm. my cousins. We will now offer a transcription of a lengthy part of the session. Diana insists on her general difficulty in making a choice. But the fact is. Therapist [T]: You mean . She has to decide whether to accept a possible house to rent or whether to go and live with Maurizio. but that she was convinced she knew better than you what was good for you. because she said they had to give me those red slacks instead of . leaving our comments for later. More than once. so I grew up with my cousins. what? D: Toys. that my mother told one of my aunts to buy for my birthday. and my mother had this ability of making me have something different from them. it was not a class thing. because. well. .

and I still remem- ber how much I was nervous. I can’t discuss. it was the same: I know it’s better for you not to become a professional swimmer. . do you know how I hated to be photographed?’ When I say this kind of thing.. this is why the anger is always directed towards her. if I manage to say something. This is the implication. I remained silent. . . taken when I was 6 or 7: ‘Mummy. Yes. I can’t. but . or . that she could understand you perfectly. . afterwards I say to myself: ‘Why didn’t I say it. D: Sure. and it’s the same today. I ask for approval. apart from how your mother really was as a person. I hear your mother’s. I don’t know what I lack inside. on the other . at that time. instead. she’s always taken aback. because when this kind of thing happens at work. when we were watching these pictures. Maybe I accepted it all. On the one hand. and I know what’s the colour you like for your trousers. if he tells me ‘No. And to be convinced. because afterwards they tell me: ‘Why didn’t r 2006 The Authors. and I can’t. D: Sure! It’s a continuing . every time you think about it. my advice. T: Here the common factor between what you tell about the past and what you tell about the present is that you are blocked. My mummy. and. it’s like this and this and this’. [pause] T: Apparently. because I didn’t want to do it. This creates some problems at work. . or at birth- days parties. . what she left in your memory is this thing of not being able to understand you. I whisper. and she had good reasons to believe that I agreed. She didn’t understand and she didn’t see my point. . Even when I know that the person on the other side is wrong. usually it’s whispered. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Hypotheses are dialogues 381 is the common factor in all the three episodes you told me [in previous sessions]. In all of them. why didn’t I express it?’ But I know that I’m stuck with that sort of internal block. you get mad at your mother. and maybe I wonder whether it was me. In the past. the person incapable of transmitting my opinion. I don’t hear your voice very much. I remember making a comment about it some years ago. because she doesn’t under- stand. that she could decide in your place. I know you have to study every day. why didn’t I do it. . I don’t speak up. . etcetera. because she was thinking things. this is my approach. My feeling is. instead. There are these things and you don’t speak for yourself. loved to take pictures on the beach. and believing she knew my taste.. the anger towards myself. on the other hand. I won’t say I don’t have the strength. D: There was this photo of the two of us on the couch. generally.

. at 15 you could not get angry. but it was nothing special. . My parents gave me problems at different times. because there . I think . T: At different times. as a young girl. . . . maybe the fifth or sixth grade. r 2006 The Authors. You gave in as a child. Maybe I feel the anger coming now that things are quieter. You never showed rebellion in adolescence. . however. . sometimes my mother had something to complain about. . I won’t say you should have. the thing’s different. I was wondering (I make my fantasies. he was the disturbing figure for you. It was a kind of an absolute duty. T: Why couldn’t you react against your mother? You were not afraid of your mother. T: At primary school there wasn’t this thing with your father? D: No. I don’t see her in this role anymore. to think she was right. today we’re talking about primary school. I feel. it was easier for me to cling to her. T: Maybe this thing. It’s just that my mother had always been more practical. . D: But that happened afterwards! T: Afterwards chronologically? D: Yes. if you had to protect your mother at any cost. of having to show your solidarity to your mother. because I felt she could hold it all together. . so when my father kind of lost his head. because of your father’s disorientation. But I feel.382 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni you tell him?’ There are things that I should say. . Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . they don’t come out. . Now. then you couldn’t possibly confront her. so I am more detached. . You had your reasons not to do it. D: Yes. sure. more for your mother than for you? My idea is. because there was this other problem. but . why did your father make things difficult. then you tell me if they make sense) . D: No. from the ninth grade up to secondary school. prevented you from rebelling against her afterwards. probably I didn’t want to add more problems . that you had somehow to sup- port your mother. My father became a burden afterwards. but most people do rebel in adolescence. I was trying to put together this and what you told me about your family at the very beginning of your therapy: everything was centred around your father.

The actual mother you have now is not so similar anymore to the mother of the past . because at the time it was so vital that you and your mother clung to each other . If things had been different. D: No. . D: I would say it didn’t even cross my mind at the time. and maybe the mother you carry inside you was never so alike the mother you had in reality. Hypotheses are dialogues 383 T: . It’s like you were saying. r 2006 The Authors. she’s always been more of a security. but that have been buried for a long time. Maybe today. It’s like you felt you couldn’t do it. . You gave me the impression that you didn’t see your mother as a rock to grasp. D: In a sense it’s like that. T: It’s as if today. so I accepted. but. . the most obvious problem. after a while she became too strong a security. Like it disappeared from your awareness. T: Yes. . how I imagine it. has always been a stronger point of reference than my father. and it somehow led me to lose my personal bearings. and therefore. . Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . I didn’t choose. ‘She was too strong a security. I don’t know where are my points of reference anymore. . But you have to settle scores with that one. it wasn’t just you clinging to your mother. after all these years. I think it was not a decision on your part. the one you have inside. I think that. for you. for better or worse. I said to myself: ‘What’s the use in saying anything?’ since she didn’t get anything . that did not cross your mind straightaway. but that the two of you were like two logs trying to stay afloat in a fast flowing river. T: It didn’t cross your mind. T: That’s probable. my father was the most immediate. when I reached adolescence I would have started to assert myself . after talking a lot about it. these memories resurface and they are stronger. . My mother. but both of you clinging to each other. it never occurred to you that you could get angry towards your mother because she was so coercing. . . . . or you couldn’t. maybe. the issue is to make peace with the mother you carry inside you. notwithstanding what I’ve just said. too strong a point of reference. But now I start remembering it all . from what you’re saying. It’s terrible. . you allow yourself to remember things that hurt you.’ D: Sure.

At the beginning. T: Maybe you couldn’t see that those memories had strong links to what’s happening to you now. thus fostering her basic un- certainty about her own feelings. now. whether to look for her peace or not. the therapist modifies it slightly in order to retrospectively give Diana a more active and competent role towards a less powerful and terrible mother. They are not just memories. Then. Then. D: Some memories. The therapist. you cannot think that one day you remember some things. Diana’s responses. in the entire first part of the therapy. and you’re changed. It took some time for you to bring them out. I don’t hear your voice very much. . Diana not only accepts it. It’s not like that. and those things just snap. each of them adding little bits of ideas. and are not so easy to overcome. I think it’s a slow process. they are ways of being with other people that you still have to overcome. and her present feelings. maybe . he tries to organize data he gathered in previous sessions. And the r 2006 The Authors. But it’s not a burden. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . Diana contradicts the hypothesis. they are memories that show you some facets of yourself that are still there. the therapist cooperates with her to improve the hypothesis. The idea is that the mother’s voice became so loud it suffocated Diana’s. The therapist is quite straightfor- ward in putting forward his hypothesis (‘In the past. . had been her father. after the first two exchanges. how you gradually discover or rediscover things that were not obvious at all. therapist and client start working together. whether to speak or stay silent. Since Diana’s first answers are reassuring. in order to give some sense both to the mother’s behaviour. At last. The triangle hypothesized by the therapist (Diana who confronted her father to gain support and love by her extremely demanding mother) does not persuade her. At this point. This time. but goes on and enriches it. the therapist proposes (although in a tentative fashion: ‘I make my fantasies. In this dialogue. Now Diana can choose what to decide. some new elements to help Diana build a hypothesis that may make sense for her. then you tell me if they make sense’) a new hypothesis. You can see. Rather than memories. the therapist has to reorganize his hypothesis. must find something different. now.384 Paolo Bertrando and Teresa Arcelloni D: How can I do it? T: You’re doing it already. I hear your mother’s’). sometimes. to explain why the target of Diana’s anger. they agree on a new relational hypothesis. Maybe some day you will even be able to talk this over with your mother.

accepting it and its specificity. and that the fact of participating in the dialogue on equal terms does not erase her responsibility. then the dialogue becomes an environment where the therapist may allow one of a number of possible styles to come to the surface. Hypotheses are dialogues 385 therapist suggests she has already started to choose to rediscover her memories and give them new meanings. So far we have largely discussed individual therapy. But it is always in a dialogical relationship with the client’s discourse. 1992). and asks of the team (not just the active therapist) some humility and the definitive rejection of any therapeutic omnipotence. If the clients are the experts of their own stories (Anderson and Goolishian. If the therapist really participates in the dialogue. in this perspective. This implicates a polyphonic process. The therapist’s discourse may blend smoothly with the client’s. We believe it is indispensable for the therapist to bring himself. and his hypothesis. within the dialogue. proposes some reframings. He asks many questions. In this process. the therapist is collaborative and smooth. a respectful therapist should not be afraid of her ideas and beliefs. where a team faces a family. and does not set it up as a monologue where she tries to impose herself on the client. This means that the therapist is ethically responsible for everything she brings to the dialogue. but without becoming openly directive. hypotheses may enter the dialogue. or more active and structuring. or may contrast it. Journal compilation r 2006 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice . then they are also the privileged interlocutors for building hypotheses on those stories. The final crucial point is that. 2002). where she just listens with sparse comments to what the client has to say. the therapist must be aware of her own responsibility (Bianciardi and Bertrando. Conclusions In the conversation with Diana. facing dialogically the client’s discourse. or as a monologue of the client’s. and clearly the context of a single therapist vis-à-vis a single client favours dialogical hypotheses. because the therapist is responsible for the very reality she tends to build r 2006 The Authors. With other clients he may be more passive and attentive. On the contrary it increases it. as in this case. the dialogue dictates the therapist’s style within that dialogue. that is. This is not necessarily always the style of this therapist. But we believe that also in the more complex context of family therapy. In a dialogical therapy it is not the therapist’s style that dictates what happens in the dialogue but the opposite. what he thinks.

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