Voice Dialogue’s Founders: Drs Hal and Sidra Stone

Drs Hal and Sidra Stone

Dr Sidra Stone and Dr Hal Stone


Origins of Voice Dialogue

Voice Dialogue was developed in the 1970s by Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone, husband and wife psychologists, teachers and authors. They have continued to evolve their work since then, and over this time it has influenced the work of other consciousness teachers and systems.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by Sidra Stone on Voice Dialogue’s roots:

“People’s first reactions to Voice Dialogue are usually: “That’s a Gestalt technique” or “It’s psycho-synthesis.” Interestingly enough, Hal’s actual work in Gestalt started only after Voice Dialogue was definitively established and although I had some contact with very early Gestalt work, my 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 psycho-drama 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. However, there are some crossovers that aren’t apparent at first glance.

Hal, as you know, was Jungian trained and the Psychology of the Aware Ego and the Selves is, at base, truly Jungian. If you look closely at our work, you will see that our “family tree” is analytic. The selves are an outgrowth of the Jungian complexes. They are not exactly complexes, but they reflect these as truly as a grandchild reflects her grandparents. If one moves deeply enough into any particular self, one can discover that it is the archetypes that provide the core of the selves.

My own thinking was most strongly influenced by Hermann Hesse and Nikos Kazantzakis. These were men whose lives were deeply committed to the evolution of consciousness. All of their books explored the opposing forces within men’s selves, what we would call “the tension of opposites”. Both men were influenced by Henri Bergson and based their world views on the existence of an “Žlan vital”, a creative or evolutionary impulse within each of us, a powerful force that moves us towards continual evolution and greater consciousness.

In the mid-fifties a friend gave me the book Steppenwolf. It was the most impactful book I had ever read. It was my introduction to the many selves and to the “Magic Theater” in which I could begin to view my own tumultuous inner cast of characters. Once I peeked into my own Magic Theater through the doors opened by this book, my view of life and of people was unalterably changed. I could no longer look at any of us as single entities. From that moment on, I was fascinated by the many selves that I could see in myself and those around me.

Interestingly, Hesse was deeply influenced by Jung and this, I feel, provided much of the crossover between Hal’s Jungian background and my own thinking. Kazantzakis, on the other hand, was a Cretan by birth and Greek to the core. His thoughts, much like those of the Jungians, were never far from the ancient gods and goddesses on one side, and Christianity on the other. His greatest book, The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel, was like a Bible to me in my own intellectual and spiritual wanderings.

The other major influence on my thinking was the early operant conditioning work of Skinner. When I first studied psychology as an undergraduate student, my department was behaviorist and experimental in orientation. We were all devout Skinnerians. Simply stated, our belief system at that time sounded like this: behavior, any behavior, that is followed by reward (or positive reinforcement) is repeated and becomes a part of the personality.

This Skinnerian outlook still affects the way in which I look at behavior. I look to see how each bit of behavior is, or was, in some way adaptive. Thus, when I talk to a primary self, I expect that if I am persistent, I will eventually find how it helped to protect the vulnerable child. It was my Skinnerian background that suggested to me that each of our primary selves developed to either bring us rewards, or to help us avoid pain. Thus, each of our primary selves was truly helpful at one time and should be honored as such, even if it is no longer particularly useful.

These, then, are the deepest roots of our combined belief systems. As for the concept of the Aware Ego and the theory of bonding patterns, these ideas seem to have been gifted to us from other realms. As with many new concepts, both historical and current, these ideas appear to come from another dimension. We feel honored to be the recipients of these new ways of looking at the psyche.

The technique of talking to a specific voice has a totally different history. Hal heard about something like this from Dr. Hedda Bolgar who was at that time the director of Clinical Psychology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. This was in the late 60s and Hal was a consultant to the Department of Psychology and Psychiatry. Hedda told about a meeting at which a therapist had talked to a whole series of voices in a client. She was very impressed by this work.

Hedda’s description of this caught Hal’s imagination and he called this man, at that time a professor of psychology in Santa Barbara. This professor had no particular interest in this work or in exploring it further. Hal does not ever remember his name. However, Hal then began to experiment with this way of working by practicing with Judith and Joshua Stone, his children and with Thea Saroyan, his wife. He knew that this talking with the selves was significant, but he did not think of its implications and it did not seem to belong to his professional life.

Hal brought this idea to our relationship. After his first experiment with my Vulnerable Child, we realized that we had come across a great tool and we began to use it as the core method of our mutual exploration of consciousness. For me, this was the way to enter and fully explore my own Magic Theater, something that I had yearned for intermittently over the previous 15 years.

Hal and I feel that this original development in relationship, rather than in the scientists’ laboratory or the clinician’s office, is responsible for the basic feeling tone of the Voice Dialogue process – it is accepting, honoring, respectful and non-judgmental.

  • It is never pathology oriented.
  • It explores with interest, even fascination, open to all possibilities.
  • Each person’s selves are treated as unique.
  • There is no emphasis upon uniformity; and there is no attempt to fit the selves into preconceived categories.

In the Voice Dialogue process one looks for what is positive in all voices, even when dealing with aspects of the psyche that are often viewed with distaste, fear or judgment.

The remainder is written elsewhere. The Voice Dialogue process and the Psychology of the Aware Ego and the Selves gradually developed first out of our own relationship and then from the direct experience of working with thousands of individuals over a period of 25 years.”

Voice Dialogue Now

Voice Dialogue is compatible with many other personal growth models, psychotherapies and spiritual practices; it has been incorporated into some Buddhist teachings; and it is being studied by neuroscientists. It is also gradually becoming a part of psychology and psychotherapy curricula in universities and colleges all over the world.

Voice Dialogue is currently used professionally in many contexts including personal development, relationship therapy, psychiatry, bodywork, organisational/business consulting, communication training, sports coaching, and in visual and performing arts education.

The beauty of Voice Dialogue is that although it has immense therapeutic value – and when used in this context it is advisable that an experienced therapist is consulted, it is also accessible to ordinary people wanting to use it as a personal growth and consciousness transformation tool. It can be learnt by anyone wishing to explore who they are and how they relate with their world.

You can find detailed biographical information on Hal and Sidra Stone’s website and plenty of resources on Voice Dialogue.

Free Voice Dialogue eBook

Get an introduction to Voice Dialogue, including an overview of 20 selves and an exercise to determine your own primary and disowned selves in my ebook Me! Me! Me! Which Inner Self is Running Your Life?

(You’ll also receive the occasional newsletter about new blog posts and books. If you don’t want this, you can unsubscribe at any time.)

Please share: