The IIDS is a knowledge and development center that bridges scientific developments in the field of Dialogical Self Theory with practices in counseling, psychotherapy, coaching, education and organizations. Its aim is to facilitate further developments of practices, methods and theoretical conceptualizations based on Dialogical Self. It launches and stimulates publications and invites an innovative dialogue between scholars and practitioners supported by the framework of Dialogical Self Theory. As knowledge and development center the Institute cooperates closely with the Dialogical Self Academy (DSA) which offers training programs inspired by Dialogical Self Theory.

Dialogical Self Theory

Personal website of prof dr Hubert Hermans


8th Conference on the Dialogical Self


Composition Work



Self Confrontation Coaching

dr Nicole Torka




Composition work belongs to the dialogical self approach and is inspired by art and a scientific model of the self: Dialogical Self Theory(Hermans, 2001). The client is invited to take the position of an artist and to compose his own self-landscape. This method is relevant for coaching, training, counseling and education. Landscape of the mind The Dialogical Self has been described as dynamic multiplicity of I-positions in the landscape of mind (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992). I-positions are understood as different sides of one’s personality, characters belonging to a person (e.g. I as anxious, I as strong, I as happy, I as a clown). I-positions are not only internal but also external ones, like significant others or external aspects of one’s self (e.g. my friend, nature, my father). We ask a person to make a composition which represents a variety of I–positions and emotions. The relations between them are explored and a unique pattern becomes visible. This relational landscape of the mind can be expressed, like any landscape, in an artistic composition. We use stones as nonverbal material in composition work. We provide clients with a variety of stones, from which they choose those which represent their I-positions and emotions. They place them together so that they represent a composition which fits to their own experience. In choosing stones as material we were inspired by Japanese gardens called ‘mind-scapes.’ Other forms of artistic work are possible, like creating a composition of I-positions by placing words in a circle. This includes the possibility for clients to speak from the point of view of specific I-positions (e.g., ‘As an ambitious person I want….. but as an enjoyer of life I want….’). Bodily movements and feelings as associated with specific I-positions are also part of such an exploration. Variety of I positions and emotions The stones placed below represent different I–positions. Stones can also represent emotions. The texture, colors, size, location in the space of the stones and other aspects can be discussed with the clients. Some examples are below. I as leader : John: “I as leader of my team, has a warm color, it is about connection and energy.” I as critical: Bob: “Critical is like a knife, is sharp, creates pain, I cannot have rest in myself. It is big, I feel it hits me.” I as woman: Ana: I as woman: “I like to enjoy life, colorful, feeling this energy of being a woman, wherever I am”. Patterns The client explores the relations between different positions and is searching for important patterns. The essential quality of a composition is its pattern and as parts of this pattern positions and emotions can be viewed as receiving their place in a larger whole. The client gets an overview of his or her I-positions and emotions and insight in their organization. “Me being not myself” “Me being myself” Work with composition leads to including I–positions which could be earlier rejected. They refer to our shadow sides. A more complete composition is not a more positive or a more perfect one. It rather allows a broader range of I-positions, also those which are experienced as problematic or negative: “When I allowed my anger and my anxiety I feel much more being myself” Space The landscape of the dialogical self consists not only of I-positions and emotions, but also of the space which surrounds them.

The space is an integral aspect of the dialogical self. In work with composition we pay also attention to the transition between the positions and the broader experiential space. Robert: “I experienced this space from which I can allow all my characters, they have enough space, I am looking from this space and I can be all, I can be much more, there are also unknown parts”. The composition of the dialogical self can be understood and explored in terms of three aspects: • I-positions create patterns which are organized in the landscape of the mind. These patterns show the dynamism of the self and give an insight in what is going on in the self, which I-positions are important, which are strong or rejected, which are in conflict, and which are in coalition, etc. • The space in the composition allows understanding better the relation between I-positions, for example, the distances between I-positions evoke discussion about the relation between these I- positions. The way the positions are located in the space can reflect their importance and the power relation between them. • The space itself is also a very important aspect of work with composition and can be seen as a door to the transpersonal level of the self. This allows to go beyond the content of I-positions and emotions in the direction of transcendental awareness. Benefits Composition work is about discovering the potential and richness of one’s self including the variety of emotions and sides of the self. There is much space to play with fantasy. Who could you possibly be? Inspired by possible positions (e.g., wizard, a hermit, a general) people can discover enormous hidden potential. In a playful space created by art they go beyond limiting and existing patterns. Composition work allows exploring relations within the self (between different aspects of the self like, for example, the conflict between the dreamer and the pragmatic position or one’s artistic and business position) and relations with others. Relations with others can be understood better when a person has insight in what is going on in the self. When a person does not accept her sadness, for example, she can have difficulties to experience and accept the sadness of another person. When a person rejects some parts of himself it can have influence on the social relations in which these aspects come back (e.g., John cannot stand the anger of his colleague because he rejects his own anger) Making a composition, a person works with the multiplicity of his or her I-positions (e.g., I as spiritual, I as ambitious, I as weak, I as enjoyer of life, I as anxious). Contradictive and conflicting positions receive space in the same composition and a person can search for a constructive way to deal with these tensions. This method uses the integrative potential of art and insights offered by a scientific model, in this way it brings together the power of art and science in one coherent methodology of coaching, counseling and training.


by Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka

According to many authors emotions involve and change the self (Morgan & Averill, 1992), they are considered to be a key factor of self-organization (Greenberg, 2002). In research made during my dissertation (Hermans-Konopka & Hermans, 2009), I discovered that emotions can dramatically change the way a person experience him- or herself. I discovered that emotions can dramatically change the way a person experience him- or herself. Participants were asked to describe the influence of 14 emotions on their selves by using verbs like e.g.imprisoning, warming or liberating. It appeared that love, joy, self-esteem and tenderness led to the most positively experienced changes in the self. On the other hand inferiority, anxiety, weakness and loneliness provoked the most negatively experienced changes in the self.

Within the group of negative emotions, anger led to the most positive changes in the self like e.g. strengthening , and at the same time evoked the most negative action tendencies, like e.g. forcing, using violence.The results showed that the self can be transformed by emotions. This can be a temporary change, because a person can feel very hard and strong towards another when expressing anger, but then, after having access to his or her love, can become soft and tender. There is also empirical evidence that emotions can reorganize the self on a long term. Magai and McFadden (1995) discovered that episodes connected with strong emotional experiences can even lead to permanent personality changes and lead to be turning points in personal stories. For example, a sense of a weak self can be build up by unresolved experience of anxiety or the perception of oneself as being open can result from a loving relationship which has deeply influenced the self in the past.

Emotions can dramatically change the self and, as a consequence, the way we perceive the world and others is changed. As Anis Nin ones said: “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”. Especially under influence of a strong emotion, our attention becomes restricted to selected aspects of the world, whereas other (relevant) aspects remain simply unseen. One of our clients who experienced a lot of anxiety saw the world as threatening in a highly generalizing way. She became aware that there is in her always a hidden expectation that something terrible can happen. “There can be always a hidden threat” she said; she functioned many years in that way, not being aware that she was dictated permanently by the voice of her anxiety. She even did not feel this anxiety clearly, but only as a vague tension which was always there. She experienced herself as weak and the world as threatening and this was one of the main obstacles in taking free actions, including taking calculated risks which were needed in order to develop her own business. People may be not aware how emotions influence the way they perceive themselves and the world. Sometimes we experienced ourselves as weak but we do not know that it is a way in which emotions changed us. We can see the world as threatening not being aware that it is just a result of our anxiety.

A very important step in emotional coaching is to become aware how our emotions define ourselves and our relations with other and the world. {quotes}A very important step in emotional coaching is to become aware how our emotions define ourselves and our relations with other and the world.{/quotes}In this way using the Self Confrontation Method (SCM; Hermans & Hermans-Janssen, 1995) and emotional coaching can go well together. The SCM as a way to discover the affective patterns of valuations and emotional coaching as a way to work on emotions as significant parts of these patterns can be a promising, effective and theoretically coherent combination. Research on counseling shows that emotions play a central role in processes of change, regardless the therapeutic approach (Whelton, 2004). As Honos-Webb, Surko, Stiles and Greenberg pointed out, change in psychotherapy occurs by replacing a dominant, maladaptive, emotionally based voice by a more adaptive one (1999). We need to take into account that emotions are forces of transformation of the self and they need to be used and taken seriously into account if we want to stimulate a deeper change in the client.

At the same time we need to remember that emotions are not isolated phenomena’s that function as “natural phenomena” like weather fluctuations. It would also be a misunderstanding to see the person as being hopelessly subjected to the influence of emotions without being able to give a response. Emotions influence the self and the self can influence emotions and in a sense they function as part of a highly dynamic interaction. The final quality of emotions is always a result of bidirectional interaction between the self and emotions.