Downgrading deontic authority in open dialogue reflection proposals: a conversation analysis

Ben Ong*, Scott Barnes, Niels Buus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The Open Dialogue approach promotes collaboration with clients and families in decisions about the direction of therapy. This creates potential problems for Open Dialogue therapists who seek collaboration but also have responsibility for managing the session. Using conversation analysis, we examined 14 hours of video recordings of Open Dialogue sessions, and specifically how therapists proposed the transition to a reflecting conversation. We found that, when making proposals to reflect, therapists routinely downgrade their deontic authority (i.e., adopt a less powerful, more collaborative position). They did this through framing proposals as interrogatives, providing accounts, and by prefacing their proposals with “I’m wondering”. More heavily downgraded proposals made acceptance less salient, potentially risking transition to the reflection. These findings provide more detail on how theoretical concepts such as “collaboration” and “power” are actually displayed and negotiated in practice and can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of what constitutes Open Dialogue.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1217-1232
Number of pages16
JournalFamily Process
Issue number4
Early online date21 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • open dialogue
  • power
  • authority
  • reflection
  • conversation analysis
  • deontics
  • proposals


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