Paul Watzlawick : biography
Paul Watzlawick (July 25, 1921 – March 31, 2007) was an Austrian-American family therapist, psychologist, communications theorist, and philosopher. A theoretician in communication theory and radical constructivism, he commented in the fields of family therapy and general psychotherapy. Watzlawick believed that people create their own suffering in the very act of trying to fix their emotional problems. He was one of the most influential figures at the Mental Research Institute and lived and worked in Palo Alto, California, until a cardiac arrest at his home in Palo Alto caused his death at the age of 85.
After he graduated from high school in 1939 in his hometown of Villach, Austria, Watzlawick studied philosophy and philology at the Università Ca' Foscari Venice and earned a doctor of philosophy degree in 1949. He then studied at the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich, where he received a degree in analytical psychology in 1954. In 1957 he continued his researching career at the University of El Salvador.
In 1960, Don. D. Jackson arranged for him to come to Palo Alto to do research at the Mental Research Institute (MRI). In 1967 and thereafter he taught psychiatry at Stanford University.
Paul Watzlawick theory had great impact on the creation of the four sides model by Friedemann Schulz von Thun and made a great impact on the development of the Interactional View for communication theory. Watzlawick also donated his body to science.
At the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California Watzlawick followed in the footsteps of Gregory Bateson and the research team (Don D. Jackson, John Weakland, Jay Haley) responsible for introducing what became known as the "double bind" theory of schizophrenia. Double bind can be defined as a person trapped under mutually exclusive expectations. Watzlawick's 1967 work based on Bateson's thinking, Pragmatics of Human Communication (with Don Jackson and Janet Beavin), became a cornerstone work of communication theory. Other scientific contributions include works on radical constructivism and most importantly his theory on communication. He was active in the field of family therapy.
Watzlawick was one of the three founding members of the Brief Therapy Center at MRI. In 1974, members of the Center published a major work on their brief approach, Change, Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution (Watzlawick, Weakland, Fisch).
Watzlawick did extensive research on how communication is effected within families. Watzlawick defines five (5) basic axioms in his theory on communication, popularly known as the "Interactional View". The Interactional View is an interpretive theory drawing from the cybernetic tradition. The five (5) axioms are necessary in order to have a functioning communication process and competence between two individuals or an entire family. When it comes to this theory, miscommunication happens because all of the communicators are not “speaking the same language”. This happens because people have different viewpoints of speaking. Its principles are cybernetic, its causality is of a circular, feedback nature, and, with information being its core element, it is concerned with the processes of communication within systems of the widest sense—and therefore also with human systems, e.g., families, large organizations and even international relations. The communication within the "Interactional View" is based on what is happening, and not necessarily associated with who, when, where, or why it takes place. "Normal" as well as the "disturbed" family is studied in order to infer conditions conducive to the approach of interaction-orientation. It is believed that individual personality, character, and deviance are shaped by the individual's relations with his fellows. Thus, symptoms, defenses, character structure and personality can be seen as terms describing the individual's typical interactions which occur in response to a particular interpersonal context. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and it is that whole is which we are interested.
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