Negotiating exceptions to clients’ problem discourse in consultative dialogue

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Objective.The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how consultants negotiated exceptions to clients problem or aspiration discourse in lifestyle consultations held for research purposes.Design.Participants from a university campus (students and employees) were recruited for 1-hr lifestyle consultations with therapist consultants having graduate training and supervision in narrative and solution-focused therapy. The consultations were held with the expectation that consultants would, at least once, invite discussions of exceptions in client's problem or aspiration discourse. We wanted to understand how such discussions were initiated and brought to conclusion by examining client and consultants use of conversational practices.Method.Twelve volunteer ‘clients’ participated in consultations with our six volunteering consultants. These consultations were videotaped then passages were selected where consultants initiated exception discussions with the clients involved. The 18 selected passages were discursively analyzed for general rhetorical features evident in those passages, and three passages were transcribed and analyzed using conversation analysis to make evident more specific rhetorical features of exception discussions, as they were engaged in by consultants and clients.Results.Ten general features of exception discussions were highlighted and the more specific conversational analyses revealed a ‘messiness’ that was related to how exception discussions were introduced and negotiated as a novel discourse in the consultations.Conclusions.We discuss our findings in the context of therapists’ use of exception questions and discussions in therapy and highlight particular conversational practices and sensitivities relevant to engaging clients in such exception discussions.

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