Jay Haley was a 20th century psychotherapist who helped develop brief therapy, family therapy, and strategic psychotherapy. 

Professional Life

Jay Haley was born on July 19, 1923 in Midwest, Wyoming. He was raised in California and joined the army after high school. He returned home after serving in World War II to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he studied theater, graduating in 1948. He earned another bachelor’s degree in library sciences in 1951 from the University of California, Berkeley. Next, he attended Stanford University and earned a master’s in communications. While there, Haley was befriended by Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist. His friend enlisted him to be part of a unique project that would be the beginning of Haley’s foray into family therapy. This project, known as the Bateson Project, was the source of one of the most influential pieces of literature ever written on the topic of family therapy, Towards a Theory of Schizophrenia, written as a collaboration between Gregory Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland.

Haley worked for many years studying psychotherapy and observing many leaders in his field, including Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and Milton Erickson. With over a decade of experience in family therapy, Haley and his wife Elizabeth founded Family Process, a journal dedicated to family therapy. In addition to editing the journal, Haley wrote the book Uncommon Therapy that helped Milton Erickson gain recognition in the professional world.

In 1959, Haley became the Director of Research at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, and in 1967, he joined the staff at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. Haley and his second wife, Cloe Madanes, founded the Family Therapy Institute of Washington DC in 1976. He continued to study and teach strategic family therapy, an approach that he was integral in developing. During his time at the institute, Haley published several books, including one of the most groundbreaking books in the realm of family therapy, Problem-Solving Therapy.

Haley left the institute in 1994 and spent the remainder of his academic career in California with his third wife. He created several films that focused on psychotherapy and worked as a research professor at the California School of Professional Psychology. Haley died in 2007. 

Contribution to Psychology

Haley was widely known for his pragmatic approach to psychotherapy and frequently criticized methods he found ineffective. He emphasized the role of a client's environment—namely that of the family unit—thus pioneering the field of family therapy. Rather than focusing on the individual as the sole source of dysfunction, he examined the role the entire family unit played in the well-being of each of its members as well as the family system itself.

He once got into a dispute with well-known therapist Carl Rogers. Rogers practiced long-term therapeutic techniques and often examined a client's early history. Haley argued that this approach was wasteful, recommending the implementation of practical solutions.

Brief therapy, which Haley played a critical role in founding, focuses on treating a person's symptoms by advocating practical behavioral strategies and coping skills. Strategic therapy, which is a form of brief therapy, develops specific approaches for each problem, slowly influencing the client to make healthy life changes. Therapists must identify specific, solvable problems, then set goals for the resolution of those problems. A key component of brief therapy is the ongoing examination of the therapeutic process and its outcome. Therapists must change their approach if it's not working. Rather than focusing on increasing self-awareness or disclosure, the therapist's goal is to foster measurable improvements in the client's life.

Books by Jay Haley

  • Strategies of Psychotherapy (1963)
  • Techniques of Family Therapy (with Lynn Hoffman, 1967)
  • The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ and Other Essays (1969)
  • Uncommon Therapy (1972)
  • Leaving Home: The Therapy of Disturbed Young People (1980)
  • Ordeal Therapy: Unusual Ways to Change Behavior (1984) 
  • Problem-Solving Therapy, 2nd edition (1987)
  • Jay Haley on Milton H. Erickson (1993)
  • Learning and Teaching Therapy (1996)


  1. Holley, Joe. (2007, March 2). Jay Haley, 83; Family Therapy Pioneer Advocated Direct Approach. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/01/AR2007030101741.html
  2. In Tribute: Jay Haley (1923–2007). (2007). Mental Research Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.mri.org/pdfs/jay_haley_tribute.pdf
  3. Pearce, J. (2007, Mar 08). Jay Haley, 83, Pioneer in Family Therapy, Dies. New York Times. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/433543458?accountid=1229