The First Element
Voice Dialogue as a Methodology:
The Beginning of The Joint Adventure
It was early in 1972 that Sidra read an article by Assagioli on Guided Imagery. She was fascinated and decided to try it out in her practice of psychotherapy. People had such wonderful experiences that she wanted to learn more about this and – most important – wanted to go on one of those “trips” herself. She asked a friend, Dr. Jean Holroyd, the head of the psychology intern program at UCLA, where she might learn more about this technique.
Hal had been teaching this work which was central to his training in Jungian Psychology. He had recently given a very powerful demonstration of this work at UCLA that Jean had attended. She recommended that Sidra contact Hal and see him for a few training sessions. So it was that in February, 1972, Sidra came to see Hal making it very clear that she was not interested in personal therapy, not interested in anything that might change her life, but that she just wanted a few training sessions so she could become more effective in facilitating this process.
In the first few sessions Sidra went very deeply into the realm of the creative imagination. It was in these depths one might say that the two of us met. It became clear almost immediately that the exploration that was happening was a joint exploration – not a mentor/student relationship – and that Hal could only continue on this basis. In the depths of this kind of work there could be only equality between us. We began to share our dream process in addition to the visualizations and in the course of one of these sessions we started talking about how vulnerable we were both feeling and how unfamiliar this was for both of us.
It was during this discussion that Hal suggested that Sidra move over and become the vulnerability instead of just talking about it. It was the moment of the resurrection of this technique of talking to the selves. The term Voice Dialogue did not yet exist. That came later. In this moment the game that Hal had played with before became something quite different and the birthing process of the Voice Dialogue method began.
This is how Sidra remembers that very first experience:
Hal asked me to move over and to become the vulnerability. I knew it was the right thing to do. I trusted him. I trusted him so deeply that I moved from the couch where I’d been sitting, sat down on the floor and put my head down on the coffee table. In total silence, I allowed myself to move into my vulnerability, I literally became someone else. I became a very small child who experienced the world in a new way. There was total stillness. I had the sense that the “I” that was sitting there had been hiding in a deep cave for my entire life and that this was the first time she felt safe enough to come out. The world around me changed, my perceptions became more acute, colors and sounds were different, and I could feel Hal’s energy holding a space for me (although it would be years before we were to know more about the energetics of relationship). This was totally foreign to me; I was accustomed to experiencing the world in a rational, sensible, and controlled way. I felt that I had finally entered Herman Hesse’s Magic Theater!
Hal was himself stunned by this experience. He could feel that he was in the presence of a child and he knew that it was best to say nothing. He was with a pre-verbal child – the child was real, and the selves were real. When Sidra left her place on the floor and returned to her seat on the sofa – returning to what we later called the Aware Ego – we both sat in silence. We both realized that something momentous had happened.
Hal had to wait a week before Sidra facilitated his child. His own experience was most profound. It was the beginning of Little Harry, a totally unknown quantity in his life up until then, and so it was that instead of Sidra and Hal exploring together, there were now four of us at work. There were Sidra and Lisa and there were Hal and Little Harry. Everyone’s stories and ideas were different.
So the work began with what we named the Inner Child – as far as we know, we were the first to use that term. It began out of a relationship in which a deep love was evolving. It had no context so far as therapy was concerned. These children of ours were real and the continuing work we did with them gave us a way of widening and deepening our co-exploration. We were not just stunned by what was happening. We were extremely excited. If these inner children were real, who else was there? After all, there were many doors to open in the long hallway of the Magic Theater. We were off and running, meeting the myriad selves that began to emerge into consciousness.
In the next few years we did a great deal of this kind of exploration. At this early stage there was basically no theory, no Aware Ego. We were simply two explorers who were very much in love and who had no idea where our lives were heading. We only knew that what was happening was rich, creative, and original and that it deepened our connection to each other at each step along the way. We still used the visualization process and shared dreams but in this early stage the excitement of the dialogue process quite possessed us. The theory was to come later.
Our work with relationship began with a very powerful experience very early in these explorations. One of Sidra’s early visualizations was that of an ancient Minoan ship sailing on mythic seas. We were both on that ship and over us, emblazoned upon its sail and protecting our journey, was a golden eye – the eye of God. As part of that visualization, we were told that we were on a journey that would not end. This meant that there was to be no real security or predictability for us. We were not permitted to set up a permanent home; we were never to go ashore we were never permitted to spend more than one night at a time on land. It was truly the beginning of our journey of relationship – a journey in which we followed relationship as our teacher.