The History of Voice Dialogue

Hal StoneAudio, Cognitive, Conversations, Intrapersonal, Perspectives, Psychology

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“Hermann Hesse introduced me to the Magic Theater of the selves in Steppenwolf—and when I read that I was just fascinated, because I thought ‘that’s what I want to do—I want to go down that hallway and see what’s behind all those doors, and collect all the chess pieces in my set, and go out to play!’”

or the past thirty years, Hal and Sidra Stone have taught together on the subjects of Voice Dialogue, relationship and the selves, and the Psychology of the Aware Ego. They are inspired teachers who bring to their work humor, enthusiasm, and a very practical and earthy approach to the transformational process. In this fascinating dialogue with our own Bert Parlee, the Stones describe their long and beautiful journey together—a journey which led to the eventual breakthrough discovery of Voice Dialogue, and which continues even to this day, as Sidra and Hal approach their 70’s and 80’s, respectively.

Voice Dialogue—and its underlying theoretical base, the Psychology of Selves and the Psychology of the Aware Ego—have their roots in Jungian psychology. The Stones discovered that not only are our personalities made up of many different subpersonalities—one of the most foundational contributions of Western psychology to the world—but that these sub-selves are actually real, with very real needs, opinions, and perceptions about the world. Many of these subpersonalities are easy to recognize, being active parts of our everyday ego, while others might be disowned altogether, lurking in the shadows of our psyche, hidden from the liberating light of awareness while they continue to sabotage our lives and haunt our dreams. Voice Dialogue makes it possible to identify and interact with all of these sub-selves, integrated and repressed alike. Through this process we can slowly begin to unhook the ego’s exclusive identification with these subpersonalities, thereby clearing space for a deeper aspect of consciousness, which Hal and Sidra simply call the Aware Ego. In this state, the ego becomes truly aware of itself—that is, aware of the many selves that comprise the ego—and then has control over which of these selves it chooses to express, rather than continuing to allow the figurative lunatics to run the asylum of self.

Voice Dialogue is an experiential technique involving a trained facilitator who engages you in a direct dialogue with the various parts of your psyche. The aim is to gain awareness of these parts and how they affect our lives and relationships, and then to tease our sense of self apart from these subpersonalities, thus opening the door to true self-mastery. The facilitator can ask to speak with such voices as the Inner Critic, the Perfectionist, the Pleaser, the Responsible Parent, or whichever self or selves we are most identified with. After separating from all the smaller selves that comprise the sense of ‘me’ (which Hal and Sidra call the “primary self”), what is left is a more Aware Ego from which decisions can be made, and creating access to many other aspects of the psyche, where none may have existed before.

In 1999, after studying voice dialogue with Hal and Sidra from 1983-1984, Genpo Roshi innovated the Big Mind Process. This method allows anyone who wishes to open their mind to a more universal or ultimate consciousness—the nondual Ground of All Being, the I AMness of this and every moment, by whatever name—to do so in a relatively short amount of time, without any previous contemplative spiritual training, Zen or otherwise. By combining the very best of Eastern contemplative traditions and Western psychological methodologies, Big Mind flies in the face of traditional Zen in many ways, which often seeks the obliteration of the ego in order to experience the transcendent Self. Genpo’s technique is much less threatening than all that, drawing heavily upon Hal and Sidra’s Voice Dialogue to establish a dialogical process with the “small self,” or ego, which Ken Wilber proclaims “is arguably the most important and original discovery in the last two centuries of Buddhism.” The idea is simple: if you seek to set the self aside and discover the true majesty of this present moment, an aggressive attack upon the self just isn’t needed—all you need to do is go to the front door, ring the doorbell, and ask for permission.

Hal and Sidra’s work has set the groundwork for a revolution in the enlightenment teachings of all spiritual traditions, East and West, as pioneered by Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind process (in which you could just as easily ask to speak to the enlightened “voices” of any tradition, be it Christ Consciousness, the Voice of Brahman, the Voice of Ayin, and so on.) We are sure you will enjoy this lively discussion with two real pioneers of Western psychology as they recount the history of Voice Dialogue, discuss some of the basic concepts involved, and share some of the personal contours of their truly extraordinary relationship.

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Hal Stone

About Hal Stone

Hal Stone, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologists and co-author of Embracing Ourselves and Embracing Each Other. Hal founded the Center for the Healing Arts in Los Angeles, one of the first holistic health facilities in the country.

Sidra Stone

About Sidra Stone

Sidra Stone, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and co-author of Embracing Ourselves and Embracing Each Other. Sidra directed Hamburger Home in Los Angeles, a residential treatment center for adolescent girls.

Bert Parlee

About Bert Parlee

Bert Parlee, PhD serves as senior advisor at STAGEN in Dallas, complementing a private practice as Executive Coach, Leadership Trainer, OD Consultant and Mediator. His areas of expertise are training individuals, teams and organizations on how to bridge opposing perspectives, principles and worldviews, and thus to communicate more effectively in situations of difference, disagreement and conflict.