Conversation Analysis in Psychotherapy


University of Helsinki


Josef Breuer’s patient, known as “Anna O.”, coined the phrase “talking cure” to describe the treatment for hysteria she received from Breuer, who was, at the time, a close collaborator of Sigmund Freud. The treatment involved the patient narrating her worries and fantasies. The expression the “talking cure” was adopted by Freud as a shorthand description of what takes place in psychoanalysis; ever since, this expression has been used as an apt gloss of psychotherapy.

Talking is indeed the key activity in all psychotherapies. It is often the only activity taking place in therapy sessions; and even in psychotherapies where other activities such as painting, playing or drama are involved, talking remains important. Conversation Analysis, as the study of talk-in-interaction, should therefore have much to say about psychotherapy.

In what follows, I summarize what a CA informed understanding of psychotherapy might involve. I then discuss the background, present state, and future prospects of CA research on psychotherapy.

Working Sequentially with Understandings

In the introduction to a recent collection on CA and psychotherapy, Peräkylä, et al. suggest that through its core theoretical idea, the notion of sequential organization of human action, CA can make a specific contribution to understanding psychotherapy (Peräkylä, et al., 2008a: 16). Sequentiality involves relations of nextness between ...

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