Crazy Like a Fox


Crazy Like a Fox

Remembering Carl Whitaker

By Mary Sykes Wylie

July/August 1995


ASKED WHY HE BECAME A FAMILY THERAPIST, CARL WHITAKER once responded, during a typically Whitakerian right-brain ramble, that he had liked working with juvenile delinquents. "When I worked with delinquents I gradually realized that my craziness, my childishness and even my delinquency were deeply involved in what I did," he said. "I'll never know how many delinquents stole cars because I got such a kick out of hearing the story." When Whitaker died at age 83 on April 21st of this year after a long illness, it might be said that the therapy world lost its oldest, wisest and most compassionate juvenile delinquent.

Whitaker broke several fundamental laws of today's emerging mental health care goliath. He admitted he had no interest whatsoever in mere symptom reduction; instead, he was intensely interested in something like "growth" a word now banished from polite company in the increasingly industrialized mental health professions. He didn't care much for science, or empirically validated outcome studies, and it's hard not to believe he would have regarded the current ascendency of the medical and pharmaceutical model of mental health with incredulity. What, he might ask, do these precisely calibrated algorithms of symptom and intervention have to do with the deep underground currents of mysterious fantasy, symbol and myth that drive human families?

Whitaker was known less for his theoretical innovations he believed theory got in the way of therapy than for his…

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