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Don D. Jackson
[1920-1968] was rated one of the top ten Psychiatrists in America in the late 1960s just before his untimely death in January 1968 at the age of 48. He is best remembered as having been a brilliant therapist, teacher, and for his leading part in the development of such ground breaking theoretical concepts as family homeostasis, family rules, relational quid pro quo, and, from 1953 to 1962, he worked with Gregory Bateson, John Weakland, Jay Haley and William Fry, developing thinking in the areas of family therapy, brief therapy,systems theory and communication theory. One of the results of this research was the development of the double bind theory of schizophrenia.
In 1958, he founded the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, and was its first director.

Many leaders in the fields of family and brief therapy acknowledge Jackson as the principle founder of Interactional Theory and Conjoint Family Therapy. Interactional Theory places emphasis on what is transpiring in the present between people as the primary data relevant to understanding human behavior. Context and relationship are the focus of attention. Little or no emphasis is placed on the past, genetic, or biochemical explanations of behavior. Conjoint Family Therapy is a term coined by Jackson to characterize therapy in which two or more people who are vitally important to one another are seen simultaneously (i.e. conjointly) in psychotherapy.

In a career that spanned a brief 24 years (1944-1968) Jackson was one of the most prolific authors of his time, publishing more than 130 articles and book chapters and seven books including two classic texts that remain in print today – Mirages of Marriage (Co-authored with William Lederer,) and Pragmatics of Human Communication (co-authored with Paul Watzlawick and Janet Bevin Bavelas). He co-founded with Nathan Ackerman and Jay Haley the journal Family Process. He helped found the publishing house Science & Behavior Books.

Jackson won virtually every honor available in the field of Psychiatry, including the Frieda Fromm-Reichmann Award for contributions to understanding Schizophrenia, the first Edward R. Strecker Award for contributions to in-patient treatment of hospitalized patients, and the 1967 Salmon Lecture from the American Psychiatric Association and the New York Academy of Medicine. Working from within the paradigm that is now known as a cybernetics of cybernetics or second-order cybernetic position, Jackson was the first clinician to uncompromisingly maintain a higher order cybernetic and constructivist position in the actual practice of therapy. The essence of this model is that the client is seen as a “family-surrounded individual with real problems in the present day” (Jackson, 1964a, 1967). Brief in its orientation, the primary focus of the model, the questions asked, assignments and task given, is always on the relationship between members of the family.


  • Jackson, D. (Ed.). (1960). The etiology of schizophrenia. NY, Basic Books.
  • Jackson, D. (1964). Myths of Madness: New Facts for Old Fallacies. NY, Macmillan Pub. Co.
  • Haas, A. & Jackson, D. (1967). Bulls, Bears and Dr. Freud, Mountain View, CA: World Pub.
  • Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J., Jackson, D. (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies & Paradoxes. NY: W.W. Norton. Also published in Bern, Switzerland. Hans Huber, Pub., 1969.
  • Jackson, D. (Ed.). (1968a). Communication, Family and Marriage (Human communication, volume 1). Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.
  • Jackson, D. (Ed.). (1968b). Therapy, Communication and Change (Human communication, volume 2). Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books. Lederer, W. & Jackson, D. (1968). Mirages of Marriage. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Ray, W. (Ed). (2005). Don D. Jackson – Essays at the Dawn of an Era, Selected papers Vol.I. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker, Theisan, Ltd.
  • Ray, W. (Ed.). (2009). Don D. Jackson – InteractionalTheory in the Practice of Therapy, Selected Papers Vol. II. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker, Theisan, Ltd.


Awards & Accomplishments:

  • 1944 — Graduated Stanford Medical School
  • 1944 — Publishes first article. Topic: Clinical Hypnosis
  • 1944 — Entered U.S. Army. Serves as Chief of Neurology, Letterman Hospital, San Francisco, California
  • 1947 — Honorable Discharge from U.S. Army as a Captain
  • 1947 — Enters training at Washington School of Psychiatry and Chestnut Lodge under the tutelage of Harry Stack Sullivan, Freda Fromm-Reichmann, and other leaders in Interpersonal Psychiatry
  • 1951 — Completes Training and returns to San Francisco Bay Area entering private practice in Palo Alto. Begins to train interns at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital.
  • 1951 — Begins to experiment with seeing a schizophrenic patient conjointly, first with the young adult and her mother, then later with the mother, father, and young adult.
  • 1952 — Introduces the concept of Family Homeostasis into the professional literature in an article entitled Office Treatment of the Ambulatory Schizophrenic.
  • 1954 — In the article Some factors influencing the Oedipus Complex, Jackson introduces the idea that current parent – child triadic interaction is a principal causal dynamic involved in emotional upset.
  • 1954 — Gives lecture on The Question of Family Homeostasis at the American Psychiatric Association.
  • 1954 — Bateson invites Jackson to join his research group as a consultant
  • 1956 — Landmark article Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia, co-authored with Gregory Bateson, Jay Haley, & John Weakland is published
  • 1957 — Revolutionary article The Question of Family Homeostasis is published
  • 1958 — Mental Research Institute is founded
  • 1959 — First federally funded Family Therapy Program founded at the MRI
  • 1960 — First Book – The Etiology of Schizophrenia is published
  • 1962 — Receives the Freda Fromm-Reichmann Award for contribution to understanding Schizophrenia
  • 1962 — 1st Family Therapy Journal, Family Process, founded by Don Jackson, Nathan Ackerman, and Jay Haley as first Editor.
  • 1962 — Science & Behavior Books Publishing house established with Jackson as first Editor
  • 1964 — 2nd book – Myths of Madness is published
  • 1964 — Publishes article on Family Dynamics and Ulcerated Colitis co-authored with Irving Yalom, which was among the earliest articles connecting physical illness with family interactional patterns
  • 1965 — Publishes two landmark articles: The Study of the Family, and Family Rules-Marital Quid Pro Quo.
  • 1967 — Named Salmon Lecturer, by the American Psychiatric Association and the New York Academy of Medicine
  • 1967 — 3rd book, Pragmatics of Human Communication co-authored with Paul Watzlawick & Janet Bavelas is published
  • 1967 — Seminal articles Schizophrenia – The Nosological Nexus, and The Individual in the Larger Contexts are published
  • 1967 — 4th book, Bulls, Bears, & Dr. Freud, co-authored with Al Haas, is published
  • 1968 — January 28th, Don D. Jackson dies after many months of chronic illness
  • 1968 — 5th and 6th books are published posthumously, Therapy & Communication, Jackson, D. (Ed.) Communication, Family and Marriage (Human communication, volume 1), and Jackson, D. (Ed.) Therapy, Communication and Change (Human communication, volume 2). Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.
  • 1968 — 7th book by William Lederer & Don D. Jackson is published posthumously. Mirages of Marriage. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • 1970 — Jackson named one of the top ten most influential psychiatrists of his era by his peers in the field of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences (Rogow, 1970).
  • 1979 — 4th Don D. Jackson Memorial Conference held in San Francisco. With more than 1200 participants, this conference was one of the largest gatherings of family therapists ever held up until that time.
  • 1998 — “The sick, the sad, the savage, and the sane” an original paper by Don Jackson is published as a chapter in Defining the nature of relationships – The Interactional Therapy of Don D. Jackson, by Wendel Ray and Jay Haley.
  • 1998 — A Homepage honoring Dr. Jackson contributions to family theory and therapy is launched on the world wide web


The Don D. Jackson’s archives have been transferred in 1990 by Wendel Ray to the College of Health & Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of Louisiana in Monroe. Click here to get access to the collection.