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Jay Haley, 83; extended patients' therapy to include family counseling

March 10, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Jay Haley, a pioneer of family therapy who pushed the profession to find concrete resolutions for patients' problems, has died. He was 83.

Haley, who was a research professor at Alliant International University in San Diego, died of cardiopulmonary failure Feb. 13 at his La Jolla home, said his wife, Madeleine Richeport-Haley.

Because Haley did not hold degrees in psychology, the profession benefited from his perspective as an outsider, Scott Woolley, director of the university's marital and family therapy programs, told The Times on Friday.

"His background in communications and other areas helped him see the field in a different way. It's part of the reason he was so revolutionary," Woolley said.

One family therapy method Haley started exploring in the 1960s advocated a then-radical notion: People did not develop problems in a vacuum but as a response to their environment, so therapy needed to expand to involve the family.

He also was an early advocate for the benefits of results-oriented short-term therapy instead of a long-term approach, which tended to focus on a problem's cause instead of its resolution.

Often, he used humor to make a point. In a 1988 address to colleagues, Haley poked fun at long-term therapy by suggesting that therapists charge "for the cure of a symptom rather than the number of hours sitting in the presence of a client."

His most significant contribution, Haley once said, was "breaking therapy down to a practice of specific skills -- of simple ideas, skills and techniques. This is quite different from the nondirective ideology the field had when I first got into it."

He was also an early proponent of filming sessions to review the techniques of prospective therapists, Woolley said.

Born on July 19, 1923, in Midwest, Wyo., Haley moved to California when he was 4.

After serving in the Army, he earned a bachelor's degree in theater arts from UCLA in 1948 and a bachelor's in library science from UC Berkeley three years later.

While finishing his master's in communication from Stanford in 1953, Haley began working with linguist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson on a study of schizophrenia.

Over the next decade, the team developed a controversial theory that attributed schizophrenia to a young person's participation in dysfunctional communication patterns within the family. The theory was later discredited, but the research led to the development of the field of family therapy, according to Michael D. Yapko, a therapist who considered Haley a mentor.

In the 1950s, Haley had been a student of Milton H. Erickson, a psychiatrist who pioneered the use of hypnosis in psychotherapy. Haley explained Erickson's approach in "Uncommon Therapy," a 1973 book that is regarded as a seminal work. He also wrote about 20 other books.

With his wife, who is a filmmaker and anthropologist, Haley produced 25 therapy training videos.

For most of the 1960s, Haley directed the family experiment project at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto. Later he became director of family therapy research at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic and co-director of the Family Therapy Institute of Washington, D.C.

He taught at the University of Maryland, Howard University and the University of Pennsylvania and spent the last nine years at Alliant.

"Kind and very compassionate, he could be harsh in his criticism of the field, but it came from a deep sense of caring about a person's well-being," Woolley said. "And he loved teaching."

Haley's two previous marriages ended in divorce.

In addition to his wife of 12 years, Haley is survived by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage; four grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Haley did not want a memorial service but instead wished that people would do something nice with their families in his honor.

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