Paul Watzlawick, 85; pioneering Stanford family therapist

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Paul Watzlawick, 85, a pioneering family therapist and communications theorist who believed people create their own suffering by trying to fix their emotional problems, died Saturday of cardiac arrest at his home in Palo Alto, according to colleagues.

Born in Austria, Watzlawick gained fame for parting with Freudian psychoanalysis in favor of an approach to therapy that emphasized relationships over introspection. He trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and in 1960 joined the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto.

Watzlawick wrote 22 books, which were translated into 80 languages. Emotional health, he believed, hinged on abandoning the ego and achieving well-being through effective communication.

In such popular books as “The Situation Is Hopeless, but Not Serious” and “Ultra-Solutions: How to Fail Most Successfully,” Watzlawick playfully promotes his theory that the worst way to find happiness is to seek it.


Watzlawick’s research into the processes and principles of communication formed the foundation of the outward-looking therapeutic approach known as MRI Brief Therapy, which he developed with Mental Research Institute colleagues.

In 1967, he joined the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University Medical Center and was a clinical professor emeritus at the time of his death.