Composition work belongs to the dialogical self approach and is inspired by art and a scientific model of the self (Dialogical Self Theory). 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 one‟s personality, characters belonging to one person (e.g. I as anxious, I as strong, I as happy, I as demanding). 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”
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”
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 can be 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.
4 International Institute for the Dialogical Self, www.dialogicalselfinstitute.com
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 e.g. conflict between dreamer and 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 his sadness, for example, he 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 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.