Innovations by Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D.

Polly creates new visions, insights and methods that clarify the ways we can find freedom within constraints and happiness within imperfection and impermanence, as we move through our lives.

Dialogue Therapy for Couples: In 1983, Polly and her late husband Ed Epstein created a short-term model of couple therapy which included a co-therapist team to guide the couple through a process of transforming their chronic conflicts – grounded in what Carl Jung dubbed “unconscious complexes” – through mutual inquiry in structured dialogue. They designed the therapy to be short-term (six two hour sessions with a follow-up) and then developed it to include techniques from psychodrama (doubling and role reversal), as well as techniques from psychoanalysis (interpretations, developing insights, empathy for the individual). Polly has published three books about Dialogue Therapy (1984, 1993, 2019) and has now modified it to include mindfulness practices. Other innovators have borrowed aspects of Dialogue Therapy, including Harville Hendrix for his model of Imago Therapy. Polly’s Institute for Dialogue Therapy, founded in 1985, offers training for mental health professionals and others (e.g. mediators and educators) who want to learn to guide couples (dyads of equals) through the process of transforming conflict into mutual discovery. There are now both co-therapist and solo therapist models, developed by Polly and detailed in her books, including an upcoming manual for Dialogue Therapy, written by Jean Pieniadz, Ph.D. and Polly.

Enlightening Conversations – Buddhism and Psychoanalysis Meeting in Person: In 2006, Polly created an initiative at the Tricycle Foundation (located at the Buddhist magazine by the same name) to bring together senior Buddhist teachers with prominent psychoanalysts in impromptu, structured conversations dealing with their shared interests – such as the transformation of suffering, unconscious habits, awakening to truth, idealization and disillusionment. There have been altogether five such events, directed by Polly in various US cities, beginning with the initial event in NYC in 2007, attended by more than 550 people. The most recent Enlightening Conversations was held at Harvard Divinity School in 2015 and is the subject of Polly’s current book, now underway, tentatively called Enlightenment and Idealization: Consequences for Practice by Polly and David Hill, Ph.D. Other Enlightening Conversations are planned.

The Mustard Seed Project: A Buddhist Treatment for Bereavement and Loss: In 2010, Polly created and organized a format for a weekend workshop (to be offered in 2 – 4 days) that brings together story-telling, poetry, and dyadic exercises for people who have recently experienced traumatic, disruptive or disorganizing loss in their personal lives. She has offered this program at various settings, from hospitals to Omega Institute, and with various co-teachers, from Zen teachers to poets and psychologists. In 2012, an article reviewing the success of the method was published in Death Studies with co-author Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., one of her co-facilitators. This short-term intervention continues to produce good results and can be adapted to many settings (for example, bereavement groups through hospice).

Enemies: From War to Wisdom (a podcast): In 2018, Polly began a podcast Enemies: From War to Wisdom with Eleanor Johnson. The podcast examines the fact that human beings need enemies and create them in their families, societies, nations, and species. Drawing on psychology, spirituality (especially Buddhism), psychoanalysis, relational theory, art and literature, the podcast looks for fresh wisdom in developing dialogue –mutual inquiry and discovery -- between opposing sides. The hosts give the foundations for Real Dialogue and also use the method in bringing together guests who are poised to be enemies, but are willing to engage with each other in order to find lasting solutions to problems at hand. There are more than 15 episodes available on iTunes, Stitcher and GooglePlay and many more unfolding.

Real Dialogue: In 2018, as a result of developing the training in Dialogue Therapy and the podcast that addresses larger cultural and social issues, Polly expanded the horizon of Dialogue Therapy. Working with a number of advisors, she brought the key aspects of Dialogue Therapy into a honed conversational method for dealing with opposition and chronic conflict called Real Dialogue. Real Dialogue is designed to open up painful emotional entanglements that cause repetitions of insult, humiliation, rage, and defensiveness when people are trying to deal with differences or solve problems. Real Dialogue is now adapted to be used at Home (as dialogue therapy for couples and others in the family), at Work (as dialogue to help pairs of equals or those who have to work together to transform their emotional entanglements into space for problem-solving and creativity), and in the World (as Real Dialogue in the public arena on topics that cause distress between opposing sides).