Behind the One-Way Mirror

An Interview with Jay Haley

Behind the One-Way Mirror

This article first appeared in the September/October 1982 issue.

There is a story that Cloe Madanes likes to tell trainees at the Family Therapy Institute of D.C. to illustrate the complexities of human communication. The story is about her husband, Jay Haley. Every morning he drives their youngest daughter. Magali, to school, and every morning as they are going out the door, Madanes says, “Magali, take your jacket.” The child answers that it is not cold, her mother insists that it is, and the discussion prolongs the moment of separation. Haley patiently waits at the door until he finally ends the bantering between mother and daughter. Winking at Magali, he says, “Your mother is cold today, you’d better take that jacket.” Magali smiles back and dragging her jacket behind her offers her cheek for her mother to kiss as she goes out the door,

With a sense of humor tested by thousands of hours of watching other families enact their rituals, Haley manages to side simultaneously with his wife and his daughter and do it in a spirit of playfulness that appeals to both. If Haley has been less successful in appealing to all the factions in the “family of family therapists” (an expression he abhors), it is not for want of a sense of humor. Rather, for much of his career, Haley has seemed far more intent on stirring things up than gaining allies. For more than 25 years, he has been family therapy’s foremost provocateur, returning again and again—sometimes with delicious irony, sometimes with biting sarcasm, always with great lucidity—to one of his favorite themes: the self-serving tendency of professional helpers to rationalize what they do and over-complicate what is going on right before their eyes.

Haley has been so successful in setting the terms for how we think about therapy and change (whether one agrees with him or not) that it may be hard to understand what the field of psychotherapy was like before he began commenting upon it. No one has ever accused Haley of a reluctance to stake out a clear position. From early on in his career, his work has served to furnish a compass bearing which has enabled others in the field to establish more clearly what their position was. Even if you found some of his ideas totally wrong-headed—like his view of the role of power and control in the therapeutic relationship (important), or the therapeutic value of expressing feeling (not important)—his writing usually roused you to respond in a way that the ordinary professional literature did not. Probably more arguments about therapy have started by invoking Haley’s name (“You know what Haley would say about this, don’t you?”) than that of any other figure in the field.

When, as a member of Gregory Bateson’s famous research project, Haley first got involved with the field of psychotherapy in the early 1950’s, the Freudian model was in its ascendancy as the dominant therapeutic theology. At that time, before the development of brief treatment approaches or behavior therapy, much less family treatment, there simply was no alternative to the view that insight was the vehicle for change. What particularly struck Haley about this era, as he remembers it today, was the “strange philosophy” under which the true believers seemed to be living. “You could always pick them out at a party because, whatever you said, they would interpret it,” recalls Haley. “And whatever they said, they’d stop and wonder, ‘Why did I say that?’ By that time there were people who, after years of analysis, couldn’t enjoy sex without wondering, ‘Why am I enjoying sex’?”

Even though he had been a co-author and editor of “Toward A Theory of Schizophrenia,” the Bateson project’s celebrated paper on the double-bind hypothesis, the first publication which established Haley’s special identity in the field was a hilarious dissection of the Freudian method called, “The Art of Psychoanalysis,” published in 1958. “The Art of Psychoanalysis” took the position that, far from providing a “pure” scientific method for unearthing the profound truths lurking in the unconscious, the analytic method was actually a brilliantly disingenuous way of placing clients in an un-winnable bind which they could only escape by being cured.

It was in “The Art of Psychoanalysis” that readers first encountered the ironic voice one finds in so much of Haley’s best writing. Haley wrote in a way that was utterly free of technical jargon with an irresistible appeal for anyone who enjoyed the spectacle of professional pomposity being mocked with wit and sublety. Haley seemed to say to the reader, “What you always suspected is true. It’s all not really as obscure and convoluted as the experts are trying to make it.”

Haley’s first book, Strategies of Psychotherapy, was an elaboration of the ideas implicit in “The Art of Psychoanalysis.” In Strategies the struggle between analyst and patient became only one example of the ongoing struggle in human relationships to see who was in control. Throughout, Haley offered the argument that symptoms could be best understood, not as expressions of inner conflict, but as interpersonal power maneuvers and that the therapist’s job was to render these maneuvers ineffective and thus introduce the possibility of change.

Strategies established Haley as the most accomplished hit man in family therapy’s assault on the mental health establishment. But it did something else which strongly influenced the course of the early family therapy movement. As a result of the success of Strategies, Haley began receiving speaking engagements to talk about therapy. Coming at the same time that he became the first editor of Family Process. this opportunity made it possible for Haley to make direct contact with family therapists all across the country. From this time until the late 1960s when he got involved in developing a model of family therapy training based on live supervision at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, a major part of Haley’s professional energies were invested in traveling around the country observing family therapists at work, collecting papers for Family Process and tying together developments in disparate parts of the country. Throughout this period, Haley was less interested in fostering a particular point of view about how to work with families than with serving as a synthesizer and developing an overview of the field.

Because so much of Haley’s impact during this period was behind the scenes, its importance may be lost on younger family therapists today. One enduring product of this phase, however, which reflected Haley’s interest in the various practical methodologies for working with families that were just being developed during this time was Techniques of Family Therapy, which he co-edited with Lynn Hoffman. Techniques featured conversations with each of five different therapists about how they conducted a particular therapy session, all of which were subjected to an extraordinary amount of scrutiny. Carl Whitaker remembers that Haley spent over 20 hours talking with him about a family session. Another pioneering therapist who discussed his work with Haley in Techniques was Frank Pittman, now in private practice in Atlanta. Pittman remembers his contact with Haley during this period “as one of the greatest experiences of my life.” As Pittman recalls it, “Between 1965 and 1966, Jay came to watch me work several times. During his visits he would tell me what every family therapist in the country was doing. Throughout that whole period, he did an amazing job of making people aware of each other and letting them know who they should be contacting. The thing that most struck me was that he was not so much trying to sell his own stuff as much as exciting everyone with his discoveries about what worked and what didn’t and what was happening in the field.”

From the time the Bateson Project disbanded in 1962 until about 1969, Haley’s primary interest was in family research and the observation of therapy. He had himself stopped doing therapy in 1962 once he had become established in a full-time research job which enabled him to give up the private practice he had been conducting since the mid-50s. Haley’s shift into focusing on supervision, the activity for which he is most noted today, came only after he joined Salvador Minuchin at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic and the two organized the Institute for Family Counseling (IFC), a project training people from the Philadelphia ghetto, who had no formal education beyond high school, to be family therapists. The procedures for live supervision which later became the basic elements of Haley’s training model first developed out of a concern that client families would need to be protected as they worked with beginning therapists.

In Frank Pittman’s view, it was through his work at IFC that Haley “differentiated himself out” and moved from the position of being an observer and commentator to having a particular approach of his own to offer. The widely read books which he has written since that time: Problem Solving Therapy (1976), which drew on many of the teaching material he had developed at IFC, and leaving Home (1980), have established Haley’s position today as probably the leading representative of the “strategic school.” Not surprisingly, in his latest professional incarnation, Haley has managed to fuel every bit as much debate and activity within the field as in his earlier endeavors.

Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside

Talking with his students, Haley sometimes gives himself as an example of how a person’s position in a system determines how he thinks. Entering the field of mental health without proper clinical credentials as part of a vaguely defined research project, Haley began as an outsider. Being an outsider, he believes, gave him a freedom to challenge accepted ideas because “I didn’t think like the insiders.”

To some colleagues, however, Haley’s “outsider” status has been as much a liability as asset. According to Fred Duhl, Director of the Boston Family Institute, Haley’s work “demonstrates the difference between the therapist as healer and the therapist as outsider and commentator. He teaches a distance therapy that is brilliant for issues of hierarchy and power, but limited, I think, in dealing with the real pains and pleasures of living in the middle of life.”

To some, even the accessibility of Haley’s writing has been a double-edged sword. Describing Haley in a New Yorker article about family therapy that appeared some years ago, Janet Malcolm wrote, “Haley’s style is so lucid, his tone so natural and agreeable, his wit is so nice, his language so unpretentious and untechnical, that he invites mistrust: If it’s that easy, it can’t be sound.”

The more one speaks to therapists outside the orbit of structural/strategic thinking, the more one does encounter a certain mistrust of Haley, a belief that he represents a kind of heartlessly efficient way of producing changes. In part, this view may have something to do with the fact that Haley, himself, has remained a bit of an enigma. More than any other major figure in the field, he is someone who is known primarily through his writing. While one can readily see videotapes of people like Minuchin, Whitaker, Satir and Bowen actually at work with families, Haley has remained a somewhat mysterious figure behind the one-way mirror. As Salvador Minuchin, his colleague for 10 years, explains it, “Jay has a public persona created in his writing and a private persona. In his writing, he presents himself in an adversarial position, as an iconoclast against the established therapeutic modalities. He has a writing style that becomes sharper in confrontation. Because of that, people who read Jay imagine a particular kind of person. Actually, he is really a rather shy person and very respectful, particularly of students. But it is almost as if Jay is reluctant to be seen in this light—it would break his image. People can become prisoners of their image, and I think this may be what has happened to Jay.”

Something else has been happening to Haley in recent years. As many of his idea about therapy have attracted more and more adherents, Haley, the iconoclastic outsider, has found himself getting perilously close to becoming an insider. Some of the traditional thinking which he took on so deftly in his article, “Why Mental Health Clinics Should Avoid Family Therapy,” have begun to shift. Many of t same clinics Haley satirized a few years are now being staffed and even administered by therapists trained in his method. Haley’s own institute, for example, has trained truckloads of therapists at every level of the Maryland mental health system under a multi-year contract with the state Department of Mental Hygiene.

Like it or not (and he clearly does not), Haley has come to be venerated as (to quote Frank Pittman again) a “cult leader.” Placed in such a bind, the determined outsider has few choices but to put as much distance as possible between himself and his overzealous devotees. A sense humor helps, but even there, admits Haley, there are problems. “It used to be that when I said something funny, people to laugh. Now they take notes.”

Q. You seem to have found your way into the field of psychotherapy by a rather circuitous route. I understand that as a young man your great ambition was to be a writer.

HALEY : Well, yes, I started writing short stories when I was about 18. While 1 was an undergraduate at UCLA I sold a short story to The New Yorker. I thought that I was on my way. I began to think of myself as a writer and a playwright and changed my major to the theater. But after that first story was published, I didn’t sell another one for six years. In the meantime I spent a year in New York, almost eight hours a day, writing without any success. Then my father died and I went back to California to settle what had to be settled and ended up staying there and going to graduate school in English at the University of California.

Q. I know you have a Master’s degree in something, but no one has ever been able to tell me what it is in. Is your degree in English?

HALEY : Oh no. While I was in graduate school I had to get a job and so I got a B.L.S., a librarian’s degree. After that I went to Stanford and worked as a Reference Librarian while getting a Master’s in Communication. That’s where I met Gregory Bateson.

Q. How did the two of you actually meet?

HALEY : We really got to know each other because we were both interested in popular films. In my last year as an undergraduate. I had heard a social psychologist ask the question, “Why do people go to the movies?” I had never thought about that before and I got interested in the question. At that time — this was about 1948—there were five million people who saw every movie released. I mean they went day and night. Of course this was in the days before TV. Now I suppose those are the same people who watch TV 12 hours a day. Anyhow, I started analyzing movies to see what was in them that was so appealing, and I later went to Stanford to continue to study films. I first met Bateson because he was one of the few people who was interested in analyzing movies at that time. He had analyzed German propaganda films, and I went over to talk to him about films. We got in an argument about a Nazi film because I didn’t think his interpretation was Freudian enough—there was a whole castration theme in the film that I didn’t think he appreciated. He decided to hire me to work on his project on communication. The project was not a clinical one at that time; it was on films and animal behavior. John Weakland, who had been studying Chinese films, was also hired on the project.

The Bateson Project

Q. So up to that point, you had no interest in mental health, certainly none in doing therapy with families. How did you get interested in family communication?

HALEY: Back then we were interested in studying all kinds of communication. Bateson’s project happened to be housed at the VA hospital in Palo Alto and one day a psychiatric resident said to me, “If you’re interested in communication you should talk to this patient I have.” Actually, the resident was leaving and he wanted someone to take this guy on in therapy. The patient, who had been hospitalized for 10 years, had first been sent to a state hospital where he wouldn’t give his name; he said he was from Mars. Then, after he gave an Army serial number, they put him in the VA, and he had been there ever since. I talked to him, and I was impressed with his tremendous imagination and use of metaphor. So I started recording our conversations and Bateson got interested. As a result of listening to this man we began to think about schizophrenia as a confusion of levels of communication. Soon after that we started a survey of schizophrenics in the VA and began interviewing them to examine their strange styles of communication. Don Jackson was hired to supervise our therapy with schizophrenics. When Bateson came up with the double bind hypothesis he had never seen a family. He developed it in 1954, and we didn’t see a family until about 1956 or 1957. We wrote the double-bind paper in June, 1956; it was published in September, 1956—the fastest journal publication ever done, I think.

Q. Did you ever meet with the family of the patient who first got you interested in all of this?

HALEY : No, but I saw him for one hour a day for five years.

Q. For five years? What did you for all that time?

HALEY : Just whatever we were doing in those days for therapy. Mostly I interpreted to him. We had a theory at that time that if you made the right interpretation, a guy would be transformed into normality and go out and get a job. This man had been a migratory worker and it was difficult to track down this family. I finally did locate them, and he went to see them. Just before he arrived, his mother died, and somehow he got put into the hospital in Oregon. So I went up there, met his father, got him and took him back to the VA in Menlo Park. Finally he did get out of the hospital and back home with his family, but it took a long time. He had been locked up so long when I first took him outside the hospital, he had never seen a car without a clutch—and they’d been around for 10 years — he had never even ordered dinner in a restaurant.

Q. So what was the first family that you actually interviewed?

HALEY : It was the family of a guy who had a theory that he had cement in his stomach. He was about 40 years old and his parents were in their seventies. Everytime they would visit the hospital, he would start to walk across the grounds with them and then he would fall down and insist he couldn’t get up because his stomach hurt so much and he was so anxious. Then an aide from the ward would come over and say “Get up,” and the guy would get up and go back to the ward.

I was seeing this man about three times a week, interpreting oral issues related to his stomach, I think. Anyhow he wanted to leave the hospital, but he could not think of leaving without going to live with his parents, and he could not stand being with his parents without collapsing. So I called his parents in, mainly to see what he was so frightened about, and when they came in, the guy stood up against the wall like Jesus crucified. His parents seemed to me like nice people. I mean they were a little weird, but nice people. I asked them to come back several times and I recorded the interviews. It was by listening to them that we first began to see double binds in a session.

Q. Was this the famous family in which the son gave his mother the Mother’s Day card with the inscription, “You’ve always been like a mother to me.”

HALEY : Yes, that was the one. Up to that point we had this great idea of the “double bind,” but we couldn’t actually find one. Everything was hypothetical about the childhood of the schizophrenic; it had nothing to do with current life. In fact John Weakland and I talked about writing a musical with a song called “The Search for the Double Bind.” But once we began to see how these parents and son were behaving with each other, we began to see that double binds were really all over the place. We especially saw them in hypnosis.

Q. I’ve heard that your work with hypnosis and your interest in the issues of power and control in human relationships sometimes put you at odds with Bateson.

HALEY : Bateson was an anthropologist to his soul and an anthropologist doesn’t believe you should tamper with the data or change it in any way. The task of an anthropologist is just to observe. For Bateson. the idea of stepping in and changing something was kind of personally revolting. After I met Erickson and began to go into a very directive style of therapy in which you produce a change, Bateson got more and more uncomfortable, particularly when I began to describe the therapy relationship as a struggle for control or power. Actually he didn’t mind it as a description of what therapists were doing—he minded it as a product of his project. So if someone like John Rosen would say, “You’ve got to win the struggle with a crazy patient. If he says he is God, you’ve got to be God and say, ‘Get on your knees to me’.” Now Bateson wouldn’t mind that, but he would mind it if it was connected with his project. But he was in a funny position. He was against hypnosis, he was against psychotherapy and he didn’t like psychiatry. Yet his project was on hypnosis, psychiatry and psychotherapy. So he had a problem. Even years later. after we were no longer working together on the project, people kept bringing up the issue of therapy with him and implying that he was connected with my description of therapy in terms of power and hierarchy. By then he had gone off to study animals— he had gotten tired of people — and he did not like my work being thrown up to him. So more and more he just stepped aside from it.

Q. Can you tell me something about your personal relationship with Bateson and what kind of man he was?

HALEY : He was an English intellectual to his soul and probably the major social science thinker in the country. He had an amazing ability to draw from so many fields— biology, chemistry, anthropology, even mathematics. We got along very well, at least for the first eight years of the project. 1 named my son Gregory after him. Bateson was my teacher; a tremendous mind. He was the kind of person to whom you could go when you were stuck for an idea. He could always stimulate you to think about a problem in a different way, which is something so valuable in a research project.

When the project started he was a well-known scientist and both John Weakland and I were at the graduate student level. As the project continued, we shifted up to where we did our own writing and began to move into a more professionally equal status with him. In that kind of small research group, a shift like that is really a tremendous change. Bateson had to deal with it and accept it and we had to deal with it and accept it. It was a struggle, but it pretty well worked out. One of the ways we began to handle it was by dividing up the work. So I headed up a family experiment program and John headed up a family therapy training and research program, while Bateson went off on whatever his interests were.

Let me tell you a story to give some idea of the kind of problems Bateson posed people. He had gotten this idea that he wanted to crack the mammal code and communicate with another mammal. After trying to find a mammal with which he could communicate, he decided he would study octopuses. He got interested in this elaborate dance they do and how they change colors. So, he decided to get some octopus tanks even though, in order to have salt water for them, he had to drive three hours clear over to the coast and carry the water back in garbage cans. Then he wanted a place where he could observe the octopuses. So he looked around the hospital for a place to put some tanks. Finally he found the morgue, which was usually empty, and applied to the research committee and the administration of the hospital for permission to put in octopus tanks. I remember the meeting they had about it. They really were not sure anybody should study octopuses in a VA hospital, and they weren’t at all sure they should have them in the morgue. But at the time they figured if Bateson was doing it, it must be okay, in some way. So, they finally approved it. He put the tanks in the morgue, and he sat there and he got bored to death sitting in the morgue. So he finally took them and put them in his living room so that he could watch them there. After that whole big decision, he didn’t use it anyhow.

Q. How did the Bateson project end?

HALEY : We were together on the project eight hours a day for 10 years. Can you imagine that? We were dealing with very hot, personal material because it was about people going mad. therapy and the rules of human relationships. It was not easy stuff to deal with and talk about. Still we stuck it out for 10 years, but by the end of it we had had enough of each other and were ready to go our separate ways.

The Visits with Erickson

Q. You had begun to work with Milton Erickson in the early 1950’s. How did what you were doing with him relate to your work on the Bateson project?

HALEY : I had learned hypnosis from Erickson in 1953 at a workshop. Hypnosis then became part of our research in the Bateson project. John Weakland and I began to visit periodically with Erickson, spending a week audio taping him talking about hypnosis. Then Weakland and I began to teach a class in hypnosis to local psychiatrists, but they began to say. “It’s awfully interesting, but I don’t want to really do it. Why don’t you take this patient on?” I had no degrees and qualifications for it, but Don Jackson persuaded me to start a practice. So I started a little practice about 1955 or ’56; and, when I began to do that, I realized I didn’t know enough. That’s when I started going to talk to Erickson about therapy. I soon began to find that producing very rapid changes in people upsets their families. I’d change a wife and the husband would come to see me. It took me awhile to realize that it was because I had changed the wife that the husband came. I was learning a lot about families in my private practice, at the same time we were getting interested in studying families on the Bateson project.

Q. So you began to look to Erickson to discuss your therapy. What was the style of supervision with him? Did he ever observe you at work with a client?

HALEY : No, he never watched me work. It never occurred to me to ask him to watch me with a patient. His style of supervision was to tell stories. If you asked him about a case you had, he would tell you a story about a case he had. Although he could he very straightforward about telling you what to do, he was always unexpected. I had a woman who lost her voice; she couldn’t speak. So I asked Erickson, “What would you say to this woman?” He said, “I would ask her if there was anything she wanted to say.”

Q. You’ve written about how Erickson was always working on the people around him— friends, students, patients— everyone. As his student, did you ever get some clear sense of what he was trying to do with you?

HALEY: Not really. Usually, if you figured out what he was doing, you soon realized he was actually doing something else. So I never bothered. But the first time I came to consult with Erickson about cases after I began my own practice, I sat down and he said, “What is it you really want to see me about?” I said, “Well, I have some cases I want to talk about.” And he said, “All right.” But he was letting me know that we were going to talk on two levels: we were going to talk about me, and about cases.

Q. Did you start noticing changes in yourself that seemed to arise spontaneously after you began to have contact with him?

HALEY: I don’t know, because 1 was going through so many changes. I mean, I was having kids, getting promoted, doing interesting research, going into practice— so much was happening in my life.

Q. Erickson impresses me as being such an awesome human being, but it sometimes seems to me that his genius may have made him a rather lonely man. Did he ever acknowledge anyone as being on his level? Did he have a peer?

HALEY: I think Erickson defined every hypnotist in the world as his student. I remember once he was talking about himself as a poor hypnotic subject and he said, “I’ve repeatedly tried to go into a trance for one of my students and I wasn’t able to.” He just didn’t think of anybody as his peer.

Q. You would think somebody who was as flexible as Erickson and able to talk to so many people at so many different levels, would have this very wide experience of the world, but that wasn’t really the case was it?

HALEY: Well, Erickson had two subjects: hypnosis and therapy. I mean, he knew quite a bit about various issues, various cultures and so on, and he traveled some, but the man worked 10 hours a day six or seven days a week doing therapy. He would start at seven in the morning and he often quit at 11 p.m. at night. Every weekend he was either seeing patients or he was on the road teaching.

Q. How would you describe your relationship with him?

HALEY: He was a man you enjoyed. I enjoyed having dinner with him. He was funny when telling stories. But at the same time he wasn’t a pal kind of a man with me. A few of the old type hypnotists, I think were pals of his. But I started as such a student to him that I was never in that relationship. By the time I got on more of a peer level with him, he was old. It was very hard on me seeing him so old. In his work Erickson felt what was most important was his ability to control his voice and to control his movement. But as he got older and more paralyzed, he lost articulation in his speech, he got double vision, and he could not fully control his movement. So it was sad to see him towards the end of his life. Of course he did extraordinary things, given what he had, right up to the very end. But compared with what he could do before, it was such a contrast, and it was just distressing to me to see him.

Q. If he were alive today what do you think he would say about live supervision and this whole technology for doing training that we are developing now?

HALEY: I’m trying to remember if I talked to him about it—I think I talked to him about it. I believe he would do a much more personal supervision. He would get bored with the one-way mirror, for one thing, and be doing things with the people behind the mirror all the time. But I think he would teach more by having somebody sit in or he would demonstrate. His reaction to one way mirror supervision might have been like Minuchin’s. Sal can’t stand being out of the room, so he developed a theory of

supervision where he has to go in the room. But when you watch him behind the mirror, he’s bored; he paces up and down. I think Erickson would be the same way. Unless he was in there doing the maneuvering he would be bored, You have to really rule yourself out of going in if you wish to stay out of there, and someone who is really a clinician to his soul, like Minuchin or Erickson, can’t stay out of there.

The Origin of the One-Way Mirror

Q. As long as we’re on the subject of the one-way mirror, do you know how its use began?

HALEY: I think the one-way mirror originated with Charles Fulweiler in Berkeley, California. He was across the bay from us when I was studying different methods of therapy on the Bateson project. When we began to work with families, I heard about Fulweiler, who was with the juvenile department in Berkeley. I went over to speak with him and found that he had a one-way mirror because he was teaching psychologists how to do testing and he wanted to watch them test. He was really offering live supervision on how to do psychological tests, I found out that since 1953 he had been seeing families using the one-way mirror set-up. He would observe them from outside the room, come in. make a comment, and go out again. When I found him in 1957, he had that method well established. He may very well have been the first family therapist.

Once I got to know him. I found that I enjoyed watching behind that one-way mirror because we could observe and talk about what was happening while it was happening. Fulweiler would come out, have a cup of coffee, talk about the family, go in and make an intervention, come back out and we would chat about it. 1 believe, but I am not entirely sure, that it was only after finding out about Fulweiler’s set-up that we put in our own one-way mirror at the Bateson Project. Once we started using a one-way mirror and got more into family therapy, people from all over the country began to visit us at the Bateson Project. They thought that having one-mirrors was a great idea and just considered it part of family therapy. So they went back and put in one-way mirrors and then everybody had them. But I think it was Fulweiler who started it all.

Q. How had Fulweiler gotten the idea for using the one-way mirror with families?

HALEY: He told me that the first family he saw in that way came to him because the 16-year-old daughter, who had run away and gotten picked up in a bar with a bunch of bums, had been sent to him for testing. She tested in the normal range. So he turned her loose saying whatever psychologists say when they mean, “Go forth, and sin no more.” In a few months she was back. She had run away, and she had been picked up in a bar again with a bunch of bums. So Fulweiler tested her again, and again she came out in the normal range. Being a psychologist this, of course, was a great puzzle to Fulweiler. So for the first time he got interested in what this girl’s home situation was like—was there something at home that she was running from?

At the time the girl came for testing the second time, the parents hadn’t seen their daughter for six weeks. So Fulweiler arranged to have them visit her in the one-way mirror room where he could watch what happened. He put the girl in there and the parents came in. They said, “Hello,” and she said, “Hello.” Mom said, “How are you?” and she said, “I’m fine,” and the mother said, “How are the people here? Do you get enough cigarettes?” or something. Fulweiler got mad—he is a very intense guy—and he went around and knocked on the door and asked the father to come into the hall. He said to him, “Do you love your daughter?” The father said, “Sure,” and Fulweiler said, “Then you go in there and tell her so.” The father went in there and got up his courage, and after a while he said to his daughter that he loved her. The girl began to cry, the mother began to cry and said, “We were so worried about you.” The father began to cry. They all had a big emotional session. Fulweiler was so pleased that he asked them to come back the next week and do it again.

He started seeing that family over a series of sessions, each time pulling a family member out in the hall and talking to them and sending them back in again. Finally he started going in himself. He developed a method in which he introduced the room to the family, said that he would be behind the mirror, gave them a little speech about being the best therapists for each other and said, “Why don’t you bring me up-to-date on your problems?” and walked out of the room. Then they would start to talk. Soon they would get uneasy in this situation and, naturally start to attack the problem kid—that’s what he’s there for. The kid would look unhappy and Fulweiler would come in and say, “It looks like you need some help in improving your communication” or whatever, and they would say, ‘Yes we do.” And he would say, “Why not try it this way,” and he would go out again.

I spent about 20 or 30 sessions behind the mirror with him. When I first began, Don Jackson used to come over and watch also. I spent my time trying to figure out why Fulweiler went in the room when he did. This was an interesting problem to me because Fulweiler himself couldn’t say. Eventually I began to realize what he was doing, although it took awhile. At first I thought he was going in to support the father or to interpret something to the mother, but I began to see that what he was really doing was breaking up sequences. That is why it was so hard to see why he went in when he did, because he did it at different times. That is, the sequence would be: father would pick on the kid, and the kid would begin to weep, then mother would pick on father. So father would say, “The kid shouldn’t be doing what he is doing,” and retreat. Then in a few minutes the father would pick on the kid again; the kid would begin to weep; the mother would jump on the father; the father would say the kid shouldn’t do that and he would back off. Fulweiler would come in at different points to break up that sequence. He might come in right before the kid folded. He might come in and jump on the father before the mother did. Or he might come in after mother spoke, before father could back down. Watching him, you couldn’t figure out why he was going in if you didn’t know the sequence.

Q. Where is Fulweiler today?

HALEY: He still has a practice in Berkeley. His method is effective. Many therapists get uncomfortable with it though because being out of the room so much makes them feel unnecessary and they don’t like to do it.

Anyway, we started using a one-way mirror in the Bateson Project after observing Fulweiler. We got together a whole group of psychiatrists and gave them supervision in return for their interviewing the sample of families we were studying. I can remember being behind the mirror and seeing what a dreadful job somebody was doing and not interrupting or intruding. At that time the mirror was just something to use to observe. The supervisor did not intrude into the therapy, even if something awful was happening. I can remember supervising a psychiatrist at Stanford treating a kid who had just come out of a state hospital. The kid was improving in an open ward at Stanford and was about to be discharged. Before the session, the psychiatrist said to me, “You know what is going to happen, don’t you? Those parents are going to be upset with this kid coming out of the hospital and they are going to want to put him back in the state hospital.” I said, “You’re right.” He said, “I am not going to let them do it. I am going to hold the line because Stanford is an open ward, where he can go in and out. There is no reason in the world to put him on a closed in-patient unit. I am going to have to get the parents past this.” So he started with the family and they began to complain about the problem with this kid. By the end of the interview, the psychiatrist had agreed to put the kid back in the state hospital. When he came out of the session, I said to him, “How could you do a thing like that?” He said, “What?” I said, “Put the kid back in the state hospital. You said at the beginning you weren’t going to do that.” He said, “I did?” Being in the session had given him amnesia. What impressed me even more was that I stood behind the mirror watching and just let it happen because I did not challenge the unwritten rule that the supervisor shouldn’t intrude.

Minuchin and Montalvo

Q. So when did you actually begin to do live supervision?

HALEY : I think it was after I went to the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic in 1967

Q. How did that move come about?

HALEY : That goes back to my first meeting with Minuchin when he was at Wiltwyck in the early 60’s. I was traveling around watching therapists and collecting papers for Family Process. So I went to visit Minuchin and Braulio Montalvo, who was working with him, and I liked them both very much. Still, coming from the West Coast, I did think their therapy was a little conservative. I observed a session with an unmarried mother and her three delinquent kids. The mother, who had no front teeth, seemed very shy and she kept covering her mouth while struggling with the kids. Minuchin would talk to the kids and then talk to the mother, then put the kids behind the mirror and then put the mother behind the mirror and so on. Finally they asked me what I would do, and I said, “Well, I would say to the kids that I thought they ought to earn some money because their mother was so embarrassed by not having front teeth. They should sell newspapers, or do something honest, to raise some money to get her a bridge made.” I thought the kids would do that, and it would be a way of organizing the therapy around the kids’ helping their mother in a different way than by being delinquent. Sal and Braulio thought that was a strange idea. But I was only describing a typical Erickson procedure.

So I returned to California and soon afterwards I heard that Minuchin was moving to Philadelphia. Then one day he called me and said he wanted to come out to visit me. I said sure, and that I would meet him at the airport. So I met him and I took him home, which is not what I usually did with visitors. I kept my private life and professional life pretty separate. What I didn’t know was that Sal had come out to offer me a job.

We got to talking about his taking over the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. You see, he and Braulio had gone there and turned a traditional child clinic into a family therapy place and lost 95 percent of the staff. Sal and Braulio had to start over and they were looking for company. I made a deal with Sal that if I didn’t have to apply for grants—I was sick to death of going after grants—and if I could get a salary and be allowed to do whatever I pleased, I would be happy to go with him. And he agreed to that.

The first couple of years that’s what I did, researching what interested me, until he began to say, ‘You should do something more practical than you’re doing.” Minuchin had thought of taking a mother or father in a poor family that had done well in therapy and having them be therapists for another family. So instead of teaching middle-class people what it was like to be poor, the poor would be trained to be therapists— which is something nobody had thought of doing up to that time. From a quite different perspective, I had been interested in training lay therapists. I had thought of taking mothers or fathers in families of schizophrenics who had done well in therapy and have them do therapy with other families of schizophrenics. The two of us got to talking about the similarity in our ideas and in the process Minuchin said, “I think we can get a grant and train some of these people.” As the idea developed, we stopped talking about parents from families that had been in therapy and it became people from the community with no formal education beyond high school. The project was called “The Institute of Family Counseling” and it involved putting therapists, who had never interviewed anybody, in the room with families. We started off believing that we had to protect the families being seen. So we developed a live supervision procedure for calling the therapist on the phone, guiding them, pulling them out of the room when necessary. Actually they did very well. We worked with them in live supervision, 40 hours a week for two years. Nobody has ever been trained that intensely.

Q. It was that project that really got you into supervision and training. Previous to that in your work on the Bateson project and then a project you organized on our own, hadn’t you been primarily a researcher?

HALEY: Before I came to the Child Guidance Clinic, I had spent five years running a family laboratory. Until then, I had always had a research job with a private practice on the side. It was a pain to have all that extra work, but I had to because I didn’t make enough money in research. Then, with the help of Don Jackson, I got a couple of grants and was making enough money.

But there was another reason for quitting private practice. I wanted to do research on families without thinking how to change them, and I found that while I was doing therapy this was impossible. I would think about intervening when I was just trying to see sequences and patterns. It was a year after

I finally quit therapy before I could look at a family without thinking about how to change them. When I wrote Strategies of Psychotherapy, I thought I was through with therapy. But Strategies began to get popular and a lot of people started asking me to come to talk about therapy, and I began to be able to make money doing that. So I got pulled back into the field of therapy when I thought I was all through with it and was just doing research on the family. I couldn’t get away from it.

Q. The period you spent in Philadelphia was a very important one for family therapy. In Minuchin’s book Families and Family Therapy, he credits much of his work to the daily conversations that went on in the commuter pool that you, Minuchin and Montalvo set up. Tell me about that.

HALEY: Well, in the clinic we were all very busy in different enterprises, and during the day we would only meet in formal sorts of meetings. But the three of us lived in the same neighborhood, which was 45 minutes to an hour from the Clinic. So we had a car pool and took turns driving. Braulio, Sal and I would get in the car in the morning and spend 45 minutes talking shop all the way down. Then in the evenings, we would spend the 45 minutes driving back either talking about cases or talking about people we knew, or places we were visiting. It was like having almost two hours a day just to sit and chat about the field. We got together on a lot of things doing that.

Q. No wonder people have so much trouble trying to figure out what are the differences between structural and strategic therapy.

HALEY: It puzzles me how people can confuse the two. To me, “structural” is a way of describing a family. The term “strategic” defines a way of doing therapy in which you plan what you do, in contrast to other therapies where you just respond to what happens. So I don’t see how one can confuse the two because they are two different issues.

Q. But certainly there are a set of different tactics associated with each approach. If you watch somebody who is trained by Minuchin seeing a family, it is a different ballgame than watching a strategic therapist that you have trained.

HALEY: I think the way that Sal and I describe a family is very similar in terms of its organization and structure. I mean we worked it out for 10 years together. I tend to think that the 50’s was the time for focusing on an individual unit, the 60’s the dyadic communication unit, and the 70’s was when the whole structural, hierarchical thing came in. Sal, Braulio and I were together when that came in. The biggest difference I see between what Minuchin does and what I do is that strategic therapy has an absolute focus on the symptom. Everything in the therapy should be related to the symptom. If a therapist is talking to a couple about their sex life, I think the therapist should be able to defend how that is related to the problem they come in with, or they shouldn’t be talking about it. I believe that the symptom is the lever that changes the family. The cases where Sal tends to work that way is when there is a life threatening symptom like anorexia. With that, he absolutely focuses on the symptom, makes the parents make the kid eat and so on. In that there is no difference between his approach and mine.

Q. After having listened to you and spoken to other people, I have begun to realize that Braulio Montalvo, who was so much a part of developing the basic concepts of the structural/strategic approaches, is one of the most unacknowledged people in this field. Why do you think that is?

HALEY: Well, Braulio won’t write much and he won’t give workshops, so he is not well known except by the people who work with him. He is an extremely innovative man. He has been very valuable to me as someone whose opinion I respect. I always need somebody that I can try a new idea out on when I am uncertain about it. As you become older in the field, it’s hard to find a wise colleague that will give you an honest opinion. Braulio will, but he is very gentle about it. You have to work to get an honest opinion. Braulio is like John Weakland— whatever idea you talk over with him improves. In addition to that, Braulio is an innovator in the field with an original way of thinking. I remember him taking off on the idea that amnesia is extremely important in human relations, that you have to forget what has happened in order to get along with each other. It is a unique idea and it has interested me from various points of view, including the realization that in the therapy in the first half of the century, everything they did was wrong. Absolutely! And one thing wrong was making people remember everything that ever happened to them. Because obviously the way we get along is by forgetting. Braulio was one of those who not only figured that out, but also made an interesting film on it.

Q. How would you describe his contribution to this field?

HALEY: I am not sure Braulio ever got sufficient credit for the way he worked with Minuchin. Sal is a guy who is a starter. In that way he is like Don Jackson. Jackson would start an enterprise, then he would go start another enterprise and somebody had to pick up all those enterprises. I remember once counting how many enterprises Jackson had. There were 12 that I knew about. When you are that kind of leader, your impact is largely determined by the quality of people that you have around you who take over the tasks you begin. Sal had the good fortune to have Braulio around to take things over, organize them, get them done and give them some high quality. Then Braulio would be stuck with the next thing Sal started. So he worked pretty hard at the Clinic. I think what came out of the Clinic and the way it operated and the growth of the Clinic’s prominence is owed to a great extent to Braulio, but I don’t know how anybody would ever know that, because he largely remained behind the scenes. Over time, he also did more of his own work and less administration.

The Move to D.C.

Q. About 1976 you began to engage from the Clinic and started developing your own institute. How did this come about? HALEY: Around then I had begun to get dissatisfied with the Clinic because it was getting so big. When I started, there were 12 people on the staff, and when I left there were about 300. What can you do in a giant place like that? Also I didn’t approve of having an in-patient arrangement. So I decided that I would like to try doing it differently. About that time Cloe (Madanes) and I were talking about getting married. She was teaching at the University of Maryland Department of Psychiatry and at Howard University Hospital doing live supervision. I began to do that, too. We decided to start our own institute in the Washington, D.C. area. At first it was a day or two a week, but it did so well that we expanded it.

Q. For almost 30 years now you have been observing therapists at work. How have you tried to create the kind of environment at your own institute for teaching the skills of being an effective therapist?

HALEY: One of the things that is special about this place is that the live supervision focuses on planning a specific strategy for each family. Our trainees also see just about every age range and type of problem.

Q. It is one thing to criticize individual therapy after sitting down with a guy one hour a day for five years at a VA hospital in Palo Alto. It is quite another to do that without having had that experience. One criticism that I hear about your trainees—as well as the trainees from other institutes—is that their training becomes a kind of orthodoxy that can become every bit as confining as the unthinking belief in psychoanalysis that you have been so successful in challenging. Does it ever worry you that strategic therapy may become the new orthodoxy?

HALEY: Oh, certainly it does. One thing we try to make clear to our trainees is that you don’t do the same thing in every situation. We are trying to teach a strategy that is different for each family that comes in. Trainees often don’t like that. I mean, who would? They prefer a method which they can learn quickly and then make everybody fit that method. So there is always a tension between our desire to have each case treated differently and the student’s sire to know the “method” to make sure that he or she is doing it right. Over time I think they get more innovative so it they don’t do the same thing with each family. We do teach standard procedures that are effective with many families—like putting the parents in charge of someone coming out of the hospital. But when this procedure does not work, or when the supervisor can think of a better, more economical strategy, a new procedure is introduced. An example is a strategy that Cloe Madanes is developing in which the children are put in charge of the parents, Compared with almost any other therapy, we try not to have set procedures that are always followed. If you do the same thing every time, you can not deal with the complex differences that come in. You have to adapt what you do to the people who come to you.

Q. I would like to go back to Erickson for a moment. So much of your own work developed out of his, I’m curious to know what he had to say about what you were doing as you became less a student of his and more of a contributor in our own right.

HALEY : I never talked to him about my work. He did like what I had to say about him; he bought the books I wrote about him.

Q. Did he have much sense of what your contribution was separate from him?

HALEY : I don’t know. I never even thought about it. He was so wrapped up in his own work, and so was I, that he didn’t talk to me about my contribution. He might talk to somebody else about what I was doing, but I can not conceive of him talking to me about it.

I more than I understood at the time. We brought the world of new ideas to him more than other people did because we were involved in so many schools and ideas about therapy back then. I didn’t think of that at the time, naturally. But as we would ask him a question, we would say, “Well, so-and-so would do it that way.” I played him a tape of John Rosen once and he said, “There is a guy who works very similarly to the way I do,” but he would have never had access to a tape of Rosen if we hadn’t presented it to him. So I guess we brought to him quite a bit of the changes happening in therapy.

But you know the real tragedy with Erickson was he spent so much time over the years teaching hypnosis when he had a whole new school of therapy to offer. People did not recognize the true significance of his work until he was too old to really demonstrate it.

Q. You’ve said a great deal about the impact that Erickson had on you, in what ways do you think you had an influence on him?

HALEY : Thinking back now I realize that he depended on John Weakland and I more than I understood at the time. We brought the world of new ideas to him more than other people did because we were involved in so many schools and ideas about therapy back then. I didn’t think of that at the time, naturally. But as we would ask him a question, we would say, “Well, so-and-so would do it that way.” I played him a tape of John Rosen once and he said, “There is a guy who works very similarly to the way I do,” but he would have never had access to a tape of Rosen if we hadn’t presented it to him. So I guess we brought to him quite a bit of the changes happening in therapy.

But you know the real tragedy with Erickson was he spent so much time over the years teaching hypnosis when he had a whole new school of therapy to offer. People did not recognize the true significance of his work until he was too old to really demonstrate it. •

In Part II of this interview, to appear in the next issue of the Networker, Haley discusses some possible future directions in his work.


Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.