Article published Journal of Family Therapy Volume 28Issue 4pages 370–387, November 2006



The use of systemic hypotheses in therapy has been criticized on the ground that it promotes the expert position of the therapist and tends to underplay the role of the client in the therapeutic process. In this article, we propose to view the systemic hypothesis as a collaborative action, involving the dialogue between therapists and clients. This interactive hypothesis is created by the very interaction of all participants in the therapeutic dialogue, and as such it may be considered a dialogue in itself. The article articulates a way of hypothesizing that is consistent with both systemic and dialogic premises, and presents some examples of the process in action.

The systemic hypothesis is but one example of a process which is probably universal in therapy: the process of making sense of what happens both within the therapeutic encounter and in the lives of clients (see Frank and Frank, 1991). In the pages that follow, we will deal mostly with this kind of therapeutic hypothesis, which shows a number of distinctive features. The most important is that, according to the concept of systemic hypothesis proposed by the original Milan Team, it is impossible to know the reality of a person or a family. We may just make a hypothesis about it, which ‘is, per se, neither true nor false, it is simply either more or less useful’ (Selvini Palazzoli et al., 1980, p. 215). Although we still use the hypothesizing process in our clinical practice, the sense we give to hypotheses, and the very way of formulating them, has undergone a change. The extent and origins of such a change are the subject of this article.

1.     Top of page

2.     Abstract

3.     Ezio, or the hypothetical partner

4.     The therapist and her hypothesis

5.     Hypotheses, teams, dialogues

6.     The hypothesis is a dialogue

7.     A clinical case: Diana

8.     Conclusions

9.     References