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Making Sense of Multi-Actor Dialogues in Family Therapy and Network Meetings


  • Jaakko Seikkula, PhD, Professor of Psychotherapy, Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä; Aarno Laitila, PhD, Senior Assistant, Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä; Peter Rober, PhD, Professor, University of Leuven.

  • This article results from two meetings aimed at developing the new method called DialogicalMethods for Investigations in Happenings of Change. We are especially grateful to our colleagues.

Address correspondence to Jaako Seikkula, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 35, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland; E-mail:


In recent years, a number of family therapists have conceptualized psychotherapy as a dialogical activity. This view presents family therapy researchers with specific challenges, the most important of which is to find ways of dealing with the dialogical qualities of the multi-actor dialogues that occur, for example, in family therapeutic conversations. In this article, we propose some preliminary ideas concerning qualitative investigations of multi-actor dialogues. Our aim is to work toward an integration of Bakhtin’s theoretical concepts with good practices in qualitative research (e.g., dialogical tools and concepts of a narrative processes coding system) in order to make sense of family therapy dialogues. A specific method that we have called Dialogical Methods for Investigations of Happening of Change is described. This method allows for a general categorization of the qualities of responsive dialogues in a single session, and also for a detailed focus on particular sequences through a microanalysis of specific topical episodes. The particular focus is on the voices present in the utterances, the positioning of each speaker, and the addressees of the utterances. The method is illustrated via an analysis of a couple therapy session with a depressed woman and her husband.