Voice Dialogue

Four colorful empty chairs lined up against a white wallVoice Dialogue, a modality in which therapists address specific parts of a person's psyche by engaging those parts in dialogue, can foster healing by allowing people in treatment to delve into their psyche in a safe environment. This non-pathological approach, often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy, aims to uncover what is present, not what is "wrong" or missing. 

Individuals seeking therapy to help address conflicting thoughts, emotions, or values, especially those experienced when making life decisions, may find Voice Dialogue to be helpful. Participants in Voice Dialogue may develop a more balanced awareness of the self and greater self-awareness. They may also experience improvement in their personal relationships and become better able to express themselves freely. 

Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves 

Voice dialogue was created in the early 1970s by Hal and Sidra Stone, who first met when Sidra contacted Hal for training sessions in guided imagery. In these sessions, they discovered the presence of numerous sub-personalities (also called energy patterns or selves) within the human psyche. The Stones theorized that each sub-personality behaves like a real person and has its own beliefs, characteristics, rules, and behaviors. By speaking with individual selves, they were able to discover some of the various roles each self could play in protecting the individual. The theoretical framework of their approach, referred to as the psychology of selves, involves an analysis of how selves operate, how they function in a relationship setting, how they influence the choices a person makes, and how they affect the evolution of a person’s consciousness.

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The Stones identified two major types of sub-personalities—primary selves and disowned selves. Primary selves refer to the group of dominant selves believed to define an individual’s personality and control that person's life. This group is referred to as the operating ego. Disowned selves are those sub-personalities that are equal and opposite to the primary selves. Despite having conflicting values, both primary selves and disowned selves are thought to contribute to an individual’s survival, social skills, and overall well-being. As such, the Stones emphasize the importance of treating each self with great respect during therapy.

In the course of their work, the Stones realized it would likely be advantageous to be able to harness the experiences of both primary and disowned selves at the same time. In order to accomplish this, the person in therapy would need to separate from a primary self and come to a center space—away from the operating ego—in order to observe both the primary self and the opposing disowned self. This setting—in which the individual can able to step back, observe from "afar," evaluate the experiences from both primary and disowned selves, and become better able to make conscious, centered choices—is referred to as the Aware Ego process. 

How Does Voice Dialogue Work? 

Voice Dialogue is intended to help those in therapy determine the parts of the psyche they most identify with and help them discover how to separate themselves from the psyche in order to reduce and/or eliminate any negative effects it might have. Voice Dialogue therapists (facilitators) aim to help people in therapy to increase knowledge and awareness of the inner selves.

During a typical session, the facilitator will invite the many selves of the person in therapy to speak about what life is like for that self. The role of the facilitator is to listen and encourage the selves to provide as much information as they can about their views. They do not attempt to negotiate between selves, change the selves, or encourage them to agree on something. The facilitator may ask questions as part of this process in an attempt for both the person in therapy and the facilitator to learn more about each self. Questions might include: 

  • What is your name?
  • Can you describe your appearance?
  • Can you describe your emotions right now?
  • How long have you been with the person in therapy?
  • Do you remember when you first met the person in therapy?
  • Can you please tell me about that encounter?
  • What job do you perform for the person in therapy?
  • Is your job hard to do?
  • Does the person in therapy know you are there?
  • How does the person in therapy feel about you?
  • Do the other selves work along with and support you?
  • What would happen to the person in therapy if you were not present to help?

To promote the expression and understanding of the individual selves, each self is given its own chair or space in the room. The facilitator will encourage the person in therapy to move from one chair to the next as each different self speaks. The Aware Ego process is also assigned its own chair so the person in treatment can observe, analyze, and act on what was revealed. After the presenting selves have spoken, the person in therapy stands next to the facilitator, who then gives an unbiased summary of what took place. 

The Voice Dialogue approach is believed to help those in therapy increase self-knowledge, rediscover lost skills and talents, and communicate with their entire being. The Voice Dialogue approach is believed to help those in therapy increase self-knowledge, rediscover lost skills and talents, and communicate with their entire being. Instead of living in the manner encouraged by the primary selves, which may be habitual and/or reactive, individuals can often learn, through Voice Dialogue, how to develop a detached perspective. By doing so, people may not only become better able to make informed decisions in all areas of life, but might also gain insight on the many different aspects of self and how to balance them. 

The heightened sense of awareness many experience is referred to as the Aware Ego or the Aware Ego process. This process helps those in therapy come to know all of the different layers of consciousness in order to gain greater insight and take care of the selves, in a manner that attempts to contain tension rather than appease one particular self. 

Issues Treated with Voice Dialogue

A primary aim of this modality is to help those in treatment develop a greater sense of awareness and consciousness in order to experience an expanded ability to make choice-guided decisions rather than automatic, unconscious ones. This insight may be beneficial when individuals are faced with challenges and/or difficult life circumstances. 

Voice Dialogue may be helpful to people who are experiencing communication issues, stress, certain mood-related concerns, and posttraumatic stress. This approach may be particularly successful in helping individuals work through relationship issues, whether these relationships are romantic, professional, or familial, by helping people address automatic relationship patterns that may be leading to difficulty. 

One study shows it may have success as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for anorexia nervosa

Training for Voice Dialogue

The Voice Dialogue approach is not trademarked, so it does not belong exclusively to any one person or group. Additionally, the Stones do not certify people in the practice or support certification. Individuals interested in the practice or theory of the approach can arrange private tutorials with Sidra Stone at The Retreat at Thera in Mendocino County, California. Tutorials, which can be individual or conjoint, range from three to five sessions, each of which is between two and three hours long. Sessions may include explanations of bonding patterns, voice dialogue facilitations, exploration of the Aware Ego, or training in other areas as needed.

Due to the limited number of private tutorials available, only people who have some prior experience with voice dialogue are accepted. Applicants are required to write to Voice Dialogue International and explain their reasons for seeking private tutorials. Interested people who are unable to visit Thera may benefit from the specialized workshops, group trainings, and year-long programs offered around the world. More information about these opportunities is listed on Voice Dialogue International’s Training by Others forum.

Concerns and Limitations of Voice Dialogue

People who find guided imagery or self-awareness tasks to be challenging, and individuals who are coping with serious mental health concerns, such as schizophrenia, may have limited success with this approach.

While some therapists believe voice dialogue is an effective treatment approach, there is little empirical evidence to support this. The fact that no one is able to become certified in voice dialogue may be a possible consideration for some who are interesting in the approach. 


  1. Gaspard, B. D. (n.d.). Voice dialogue: An effective unit as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy for treating anorexia. Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/articles-b/Voice_Dialogue-Anorexia.pdf
  2. Hendin, J. (2014). The development of conscious body symptom work, and its efficacy in client outcomes. Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/articles-b/Conscious_Body_System_Work.pdf
  3. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (n.d.). The basic elements of voice dialogue, relationship, and the psychology of selves. Retrieved from http://delos-inc.com/pdf/Elements.pdf
  4. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (n.d.). Making relationships work for you. Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/articles/Making_Relationships_Work_For_You.htm
  5. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (n.d.). Private tutorials. Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/trainings-index.htm​
  6. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (n.d.). Voice dialogue: An introduction to the use of voice dialogue. Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/articles/Voice_Dialogue-_An_Introduction.htm
  7. Stone, H., & Stone, S. (n.d.). What is the best way for someone to get some personal experience with Voice Dialogue and/or to get training in the work?​ Retrieved from http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/FAQ-index/How_to_Obtain_Personal_Experience.htm​


Last updated: 06-30-2016

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