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Jay Haley

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Professional Psychology: Debating Chamber · Psychology Journals · Psychologists

Jay Haley in relation to family therapy is a creative, provocative clinician who seems to delight in making definitive, challenging statements. Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that his method of therapy-–he claims not to have a theory of therapy—-emphasizes creative and provocative instructions for the clients to react to.

Haley adheres to a systems/communications model of family interaction, and in fact restricts himself to dealing specifically with the interactions, the repeated sequences of behaviors, and has little interest in such areas as insight, catharsis, or other concepts not directly tied to overt behavior. Haley sees dysfunctional family communication as paradoxical, in that their content is not congruent with their metacommunication. His therapeutic goal is to stop problematic behavior sequences and replace them with more functional, flexible ones. Haley believes that feelings will change as a result of behavior changing, and thus need not be dealt with directly. He tends to formulate the issue, for the clients, in terms of solving the problem that brought them into therapy, while keeping within himself a more sophisticated formulation focused on patterns of repeated interactions, dysfunctionally inflexible and often involving issues of control over the creating and enforcement of family rules. The therapist’s role is to intervene in whatever ways will effectively and efficiently bring about changes in the family’s hierarchy and interactive patterns, to promote congruence in communications and family rules. He uses a variety of techniques, all intended to change the behavior of the system rapidly, with or without awareness. Typical of his interventions are metaphorical statements, purposely kept at what might be called a subliminal level, alluding to the type of change desired by the therapist, and the introduction of a paradoxical injunction intended to restructure the system (e.g., by having a relatively alienated couple work together in trying to deal with the therapist’s bizarre prescriptions).

Successful therapy is the successful solution to specific problems, achieved through an increase in the variety, complexity, and congruence of the family members’ responses. For Haley, change within an organization produces change within individuals. By forcing a change in interactional patterns, new patterns, and with them new hierarchies and coalitions, emerge; those changes require individuals to respond in new ways, to develop new patterns of response. Haley does not distinguish between a “changed” individual and an individual simply emitting new behaviors in response to a new environment. Whether the individual would respond in old ways if the rest of the family “regressed” to an old pattern is left unanswered; the system has changed in the direction of functionality, alleviating the presenting problem(s); individuals, in this new setting, are reacting with different patterns, and thus, for Haley, they are Haley

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