A conversation analysis of therapist repeats in open dialogue network meetings

Ben Ong*, Scott Barnes, Niels Buus

*Corresponding author for this work

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Writings on Open Dialogue approaches to working with families experiencing mental distress emphasize the importance of the therapist repeating the family's words back to them verbatim. Repeats are theorized to display the therapist's listening and to encourage elaboration without imposing the therapist's own interpretations or conclusions on the family. These recommendations have not been subjected to rigorous interactional investigation. In this study, we used conversation analysis to analyze 160 examples of therapists repeating the prior talk of the family from 14 h of video-recorded Open Dialogue sessions. We found that these repeats had similar functions to those previously described in conversation analysis research such as initiating repair, marking receipt, and requesting elaboration as well as examples of therapist repeats occurring in overlap with the talk of the client. Open Dialogue writings thus present an oversimplified account of how repeats are utilized in clinical Open Dialogue sessions. Consistent with dialogical writings, repeats can elicit elaboration with limited input from the therapist, however repeats reflect selectivity and function to direct and guide the conversation to some extent. So, while therapist authority can be mitigated by repeating clients' words, when a therapist chooses to employ a repeat actively shapes the direction of the interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113–129
Number of pages17
JournalFamily Process
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • conversation analysis
  • open dialogue
  • qualitative research
  • repeats


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