Issue 26 June 2007











The story changes depending upon who tells it.  And, as the journey goes on, we view our lives from different vantage points and through different eyes -as we integrate more and more selves. What seemed important at one time seems less important later. What seemed less important can assume greater importance as time goes on.

At this point in our lives – as we reach our 70th and 80th years – we have decided that it is time to look back and to tell the story of the origins and development of Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves the way we see it. We wish to honor those we know have directly contributed to our work, to clarify some misconceptions that are common, and to tell – to the best of our ability – the stories of those moments when some new element was added or our thinking has changed.

Let us begin with our view of the creative process. We find that outer and inner influences blend indistinguishably. We have lived rich, complex – and jointly examined – lives. From the outer world, there have been teachers and information from many disparate sources. We have had many powerful experiences with others, both professional and personal. From the world within, we have had our individual dreams, transpersonal experiences, and moments of sudden clarity that seem to be gifts from sources outside of our personal experience. All these are digested by each of us, providing us with the raw material from which we create. When an idea or a concept emerges, we are never quite sure of where it comes from.

In the past, people’s first reactions to Voice Dialogue were usually: “That’s a Gestalt technique” or “It’s psychosynthesis.” Interestingly enough, Hal’s actual work in Gestalt started only after Voice Dialogue was definitively established in our lives and although Sidra had some contact with very early Gestalt work, her experience of it was extremely limited. As for psycho-synthesis, we were both fascinated with its use of imagery, but neither of us had delved deeply enough into it to know about its concepts of the different selves. Nor were we particularly influenced by psychodrama or TA, having only a passing acquaintance with both of these through the popular press.

We have always honored these various approaches as having some relationship to Voice Dialogue since they were clearly a part of the general psychological culture in the early 70’s. At the same time, we recognized that our own creative process was based upon a very different, and unique, set of experiences. The roots of our work go far deeper than our exposure to these newer schools of thought. We came from two contrasting, one might even say conflicting, backgrounds.


I was trained as a Jungian analyst, eventually becoming the president of the Society for Analytical Psychology in Los Angeles in 1968. I studied at the Jung Institute for several months in 1957 and actually had the opportunity to meet with Jung himself for an individual session. These experiences went deep into my being and have, to some extent, informed my work throughout my life.

My experiences with the Jungian community and my early training gave me the gifts of a deep understanding of dreams, myths, fairytales, and depth psychology. On the other hand I knew that something was missing. I didn’t feel like a grownup. I go into these matters in greater detail in the 5 CD series I made last year.  The outcome of all this was that I left the Jungian community – and the traditional practice of analytical psychology – in 1970.  This was two years before Sidra and I met.  My experience of all of this was the end of my personal and professional life as I had known it and the beginning of a new life that was as yet totally undefined and unknown to me.

Though I found it necessary to separate from the professional organization in 1970, I realize now that I would have had to separate from anything that I was a part of.  I needed to float free and not be tied to any kind of outer professional form. Only in this way could I begin to move into an entirely new kind of creative process that has led me to where I am today.  I shall be eternally grateful forever for the remarkable opportunity I had to discover Jungian Psychology, to the colleagues I had, to the clients I worked with and to the innovative spirit of Jung himself. From my very first analytic session my unconscious opened and with it the life of spirit and a most remarkable dream process that has always helped to maintain some kind of objective clarity.  From that first session I had come home to the symbolic life of spirit and I was able to separate from the arid desert of my rational mind.

My first encounter with Voice Dialogue, or the idea of talking to selves, came some time in the late sixties.  The story I am about to tell you is not about Voice Dialogue directly.  It is concerned about a clinical experience that led me to a different place professionally and that is intertwined in my mind with the early origins of the work.

In the late sixties a couple came to see me in regard to their son who we will call Jimmie.  The couple lived in Southern California and their son had spent the past year at a special residential treatment center on the east coast for acting out or disturbed children.  In particular Jimmie was acting out in school and it was felt that he couldn’t function in a regular academic setting.

Jimmie was eleven years of age when his parents first came to me and they   were very upset. They had just received a letter from the school informing them that they had done a complete psychological evaluation on the boy because of his disturbed behavior, that he was being diagnosed as schizophrenic and that they were strongly recommending he be placed in a special setting run by a psychoanalytic group in the area. Since they felt that he was schizophrenic they felt that he needed a special facility for this level of mental impairment.

The parents had moved out West the year before and they were looking forward to his joining them in their new home.  They were very upset by this letter and their question was whether I could help them in this situation.  I told them I would be willing to see Jimmie if they brought him to L.A. and I would do an independent evaluation.  I would need all of the medical records that were available before I saw him.  I couldn’t promise them more than that.

Two to three weeks later Jimmie walked into my office.  He was a very curious child, interested in everything he saw.  On my desk I had a pile of psychological and psychiatric reports four or five inches high containing notes, test materials and psychiatric evaluations. All of them concurred in the diagnosis of schizophrenia.  They described how what had begun as acting out behavior had, over the past year, developed into an increasingly disturbed state.  As I sat with Jimmie I was experiencing a huge conflict because my experience of him was very different. It was very positive. I liked him very much and I thought he had a wonderful spirit. On the other hand, I had these reports from a very fine school and very qualified health care practitioners all making the same diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Jimmie was easy to talk to and he told me about his school and about its philosophy.  Basically, their management style was to never let children be alone but to always keep them busy doing things.  It was felt that being alone allowed them to collapse into their own imagination and fantasy and that this would be damaging to them.  It was becoming clear to me that Jimmie was a very imaginative youngster and that the school routine might not have been the best kind of experience for him.

In the course of our discussion I asked Jimmie if he ever remembered any dreams.  He told me that he had one just last evening. This was the dream:

“I am sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby of my school. My parents are visiting me before they go back to California.  I am crying and begging them not to go.  They feel they have no choice however and they get up to leave and I wake up sobbing that they are leaving me here.”

The dream was totally stunning to me.  He was in a wheel chair. Why was he there?  Did this mean that he was indeed crippled in the way the reports on him indicated was the case?  Why else would he be in the wheel chair?  Yet every instinct in me felt a core of health in him that was incompatible with the diagnosis.

I asked him to close his eyes and go back into the dream and be in the wheel chair.  He did this easily, just as I expected, and after a half-minute or so I asked him why he was in the wheel chair.  What was wrong with him? Could he tell me anything about how he felt sitting there?

Jimmie then said a remarkable thing to me.  “What I feel is that there is a magnet in the back of the wheel chair and that this magnet is holding me in the chair.”  I said before that I was stunned when I heard his dream.  Hearing his response to my questioning was being stunned to tenth power.  Suddenly it was all so simple.  Everything made sense and the excitement I had been feeling began to lessen and I really felt very happy with things.

I realized then that Jimmie was a highly creative, highly gifted, highly imaginative child who had been misplaced in this school. I’m sure the theory worked for many of their children, but for a youngster like this one it was totally counter-productive. He was a magical child and the world of imagination was essential to him. It had literally driven him into schizophrenic behavior because he had nowhere else to go.  It was an artificially induced state and this I felt could be changed.

I then said to him that if he was being held in the chair by this magnet it seemed to me that he could do something to break the power of the magnet. We did this together. First he broke the power in his imagination and then he actually got up from his chair in my office (as though it were the wheelchair) and walked around the room.  All of this was done using simple methods of active imagination.   After five or ten minutes we then went into my art studio where he began to work with sand play and painting. I saw him for about 12 sessions. He was now ready to stop our work together and he began public school near his home in Southern California.  I saw him for two sessions when he was in High School and he just wanted to talk over some of the issues he was dealing with in high school.  Through other sources I can tell you that Jimmie ultimately went into the film business where he has led a successful professional life.

It was a month later that I received a call from Dr. Hedda Bolgar from Mt. Sinai hospital.  Hedda was a lovely woman, a gifted therapist and analyst; she was the director of psychology at Mt. Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.  Hedda was also affiliated with the psychoanalytic group that was in charge of the school that Jimmie attended.  Apparently they were very upset because Jimmie was now in public school and they couldn’t imagine how this could happen.  They contacted Hedda and asked her to talk with me and find out what had happened.  I told her that it was a long story and maybe it was best for us to meet in person over lunch and I would share with her what had happened.

Hedda has always been a remarkable woman.  She has always been open to new ideas and new possibilities. When we met and I gave her the whole background on what had happened with Jimmie, she really understood what had happened at a very deep level.  Shortly after our meeting, she called and invited me to become a consultant to the department of psychology at Mt. Sinai and then to become a consultant to the department of psychiatry, also at Mt. Sinai.  This was the beginning of a wonderful few years working with Hedda and other staff members and students in training in this dual capacity.

It was about a year after I started my consulting work that Hedda told me about a clinical demonstration that she had witnessed that was facilitated by a professor at U.C. Santa Barbara.  She had watched him working with a  client using a number of chairs for the different selves of the subject.  I was fascinated by her description of what had taken place in this session.  I contacted the professor and asked him about the demonstration and he told me at that time that he had no real interest in this work and he didn’t mind at all if anyone wished to explore it more deeply.  Whatever he was doing had no name though it certainly seemed like the way a Gestalt therapist would work even though the professor had no connection to Gestalt work

I then began to play with the idea at home using my daughter Judith and my son Joshua (now deceased) and my then wife, Thea, as subjects.  We facilitated each other and it was fun, and sometimes seemed important, but it never went any further and within a year or so it seemed to have died a natural death. The resurrection did not happen for another two years or so when Sidra and I first met.

In the next Voice Dialogue Tips, Sidra explains her EARLIEST INFLUENCES and EXPERIENCES.