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John Weakland
[1919-1995] was one of the founders of brief and family psychotherapy. At the time of his death, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California, Co-Director of the famous Brief Therapy Center at MRI, and a Clinical Associate Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Weakland was a native of Charleston, W.Va. He was a brilliant student who entered Cornell University at the age of 16 and received a degree in chemical engineering. He worked as a chemical engineer with the DuPont Company before a chance encounter with Gregory Bateson to discuss mathematics, and led him to pursue anthropology at Columbia University. While at Columbia, he worked on the Cultures at a Distance Project with Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. John was eventually led to field work with Chinese communities in New York and San Francisco, Navaho and Pueblo Indians, and later, native communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.Weakland never obtained his doctorate from Columbia; rejecting his adviser’s criticisms of his thesis, he refused to rewrite it.

At Bateson’s invitation, Weakland moved to California with his wife, Anna Wu Weakland to participate in research. Weakland was the first person Bateson asked to join a research project that would become known as the Bateson Project that helped to give birth to family therapy and co-authored the seminal paper, “Towards a Theory of Schizophrenia” Weakland was also an early student and researcher of Milton Erickson.

Joining the Mental Research Institute in the early 1960s, Weakland was a founding member and Co-Director of MRI’s Brief Therapy Center (along with Paul Watzlawick and Dick Fisch). This center helped to inspire many of the more influential psychotherapy approaches in brief and family therapy. Weakland mentored and befriended many therapists who would go on to make major contributions to the field.Weakland died in Los Altos, California.

With others at the Bateson Research Team, John pioneered the application of communication theory in understanding human behavior. He insisted the study of human behavior concentrate on directly observable interaction and avoid reliance on inferences or constructs that are not observable. Communication/Interactional theory posits that communication occurring in the present among members of the clients’ family is the most relevant source of explanation for behavior. Focusing on how members of a family affect one another, the team set forth double bind theory (Bateson, Jackson, Haley & Weakland, 1956). The double bind is a continuous, pervasive process that can occur in any intense relationship in which the individuals involved feel it vitally important to accurately interpret the meaning of the other. A single, simple message never occurs and family members frequently send incongruent messages. John was also pivotal, with Haley, in introducing Milton Erickson’s hypnotherapy to a wider audience. Working with Don Jackson, Jules Riskin, and Virginia Satir, he pioneered the development of conjoint family therapy. Among the first to apply interactional/systemic premises in work with individuals, John contended that if one takes seriously the interactional view, that problems occur in the context of, and are maintained by, the behaviors of other family members, then, it is not necessary to see the whole family together in order to identify and interrupt attempted solutions which maintain the problem. Also, John Weakland and John Herr pioneered the area of marriage and family therapy with aging families. These are but a few of John’s innovative contributions during the Bateson research projects, and later at MRI.


  • Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, with Paul Watzlawick and Richard Fisch (WW Norton, NY, 1974)
  • Weakland, J. H. (1978) Pursuing the evident into schizophrenia and beyond. In: M. M. Berger (ed.) Beyond the Double Bind: Communication and Family Systems, Theories and Techniques with Schizophrenics. New York: BrunnerIMazel.
  • The Interactional View: Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974, edited with Paul Watzlawick (WW Norton, NY, 1979)
  • The Tactics of Change: Doing Therapy Briefly, with Richard Fisch and Lynn Segal (Jossey Bass, SF, 1982)
  • The Interactional View: Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974, edited with Paul Watzlawick (WW Norton, NY, 1979)
  • Lipset, D. (1980) Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Rigor and Imagination, Essays from the Legacy of Gregory Bateson, edited with Carol Wilder-Mott (Praeger, NY, 1981)
  • Propagations: Thirty Years of Influence From the Mental Research Institute,edited with Wendel Ray (The Haworth Press, Inc., 1995)



  • Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J. H. (1956) Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science, 1: 25 1-264.
  • Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J. H. (1963) A note on the double bind – 1962. Family Process, 2: 154-161.
  • McGregor, H. ( 1990) Conceptualising male violence against female partners. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 11: 65-70.
  • Weakland, J. H. (1976) The double-bind theory by self-reflexive hindsight. In:Family Process Volume 13, Issue 3, pages 269–277, September 1974
  • Weakland, J. H., Fisch, R., Watzlawick, P. and Bodin, A. (1974) Brief therapy: focused problem resolution. Family Process, 13: 141-168.