Open Dialogue International Community Forum

A new model of 'self-organising therapy' partly inspired by Open Dialogue

Ever since I realised, in the autumn of 1991, that I was not cut out for 1 on 1 psychotherapy in either the role of client or of therapist - and yet had a deep commitment to open dialogue, I have been working on a “3-way model” designed to give me a role but not giving me sole responsibility as therapist.

I would like to share my most recent draft of a kind of manifesto. Over the years, I have got people to try this out for one or two meetings only, so I still don’t know how well it works. But anyway, I would like to share it on this forum now, please.

I think it only really differs from formal Open Dialogue in that it flattens out any semblance of hierarchy, between facilitators and target group. Maybe it is best suited for small-group peer supervision, but I still can’t help thinking it might be a brilliant approach for some kinds of troubled client.


I am exploring a way of working with people which resembles psycho-therapy in some respects but diverges significantly from it in others. If we want, we can use it in the service of psychotherapy’s goal of helping a clienti towards greater levels of effectiveness, autonomy, self-responsibility and satisfaction in life. It differs from psycho-therapy in not placing the ‘client’ at the centre of the process - as if the therapist were a mere instrument, or an exalted expert - but aiming instead to build an open and honest relationship which quietly respects the fundamental equality of each person as a separate centre of experience, striving and understanding.

The participants are seen as engaging in a process of negotiating a consensual reality in their process of interacting and communicating. And at this point we are undercutting many of the authority issues which can bedevil many of the well-known approaches to psychotherapyii. Within our model, no one person’s view is taken to have priority over any other’s; whereas in most conventional therapy situations, the client has priority in some respects, and the therapist has priority in others). But here, we shall each be committed to working through any discrepancies or difficulties we may discover in the process of being together. The aim will be to seek resolutions which are satisfactory for all.

We will start by clarifying our reasons for being here. This is a negotiation about what we want from the series of meetings we plan together, what expectations we have, and what commitments we understand the other parties to be making. To practise this approach effectively, we need a minimum of three parties to the relationship. This means that if there is one person seeking help there needs to be two people in the ‘helper’ position. In other situations the three could be on altogether equal terms, each with their own reasons for being involved in the process.

I intend that the proceedings should be biased towards what I call the ground level of personal reality. By this I mean the complex reality that each one of us perceives, feels, intends and/or understands. Where there are differences in point of view we shall seek not to relativise, or discount the view of the other. Even the act of reflecting or questioning should be entered into with caution; it should be kept to a minimum, and for the most part in response to some actual conflict or discrepancy between our different points of view. We may find ourselves needing shifting to the level of reflection quite often, but it is better if this arises out of some felt discrepancy - or some discomfort, or difficulty - that is actually being registered by one or another party. The aim at this point, is to encourage each person to share their own perspective, personally, and essentially on equal terms.

This is what I mean by working towards a consensual reality: it is a matter of finding our way through the differences that arise for us within the pattern of interaction, amongst the various intentions and commitments that are being expressed, and/or making themselves felt, at ‘ground level’.

This, perhaps, is a definition of ‘openness’ and ‘honesty’. But these are not easy qualities to maintain - in any relationship. My ‘three-way’ approach offers some unique resources for such a challenge: for each ‘pair’ in the group may – from time to time – find themselves in need of some perspective or clarification from the ‘third’, something that will help them understand where they are with one another. And for each individual, there are going to be times when they find themselves needing to call their own perceptions - and their own wishes and commitments - into question; this is just in the course of us working out our relationships with each other in real time. At those times when an actual dilemma arises, the reflective view of one, or both, of the others may be of inestimable help. The willingness to enter into such dilemmas (in other words to resist the temptation to sweep difficulties under the carpet) - will be of greater practical value for our approach - than any specific training or qualification that any individual may possess.

Michael Roth, 4th November 2015 (revised 11th October 2016)

Hi Mike, I am completely comfortable with your offering and hope that in any dialogue the sense of any hierarchy is absent. I tend to express this as being at eye level with everyone. I have mentioned it before in other posts, the idea that Open Space is based on the principle of self organising , so this too is consistent with the underlying philosophy. How can we help you take this forward? Rex