Paul Watzlawick, the man of anecdotes

By Yasunaga Komori, M.D.

When I first read Paul Watzlawick, I was a pediatrician. I got the licence of medical doctor, but couldn’t make the decision to become a psychiatrist. I, as a pediatrician, started having long conversations with families of children suffering severe asthma who would come in the middle of the night. I found myself starting to read Family Therapy books, but in those days, only a few had been translated into Japanese. Paul’s writings were particularly fascinating owing to his anecdotes heaped in them. ‘Konrad Lorenz and a duck’, ‘A story about a family diagnosis by Jackson’s listening to sample conversation of husband and wife about their marriage’, and ‘a man searching for his wallet under an electric light in the middle of the night’, etc.

Now, if you asked me to pick five best articles on Family Therapy, I would list the followings.

1) Bateson, Jackson, Haley, and Weakland: Toward The theory of Schizophrenia, Behavioral Science 1(4):251-254,1956

2) Jackson and Weakland: Conjoint Family Therapy, Psychiatry, 24(suppl. No.2):30-45, 1961

3) Weakland, Fisch, Watzlawick, and Bodin: Brief Therapy: Focused Problem Resolution, Family Process 13:141-168,1974

4)Weakland: ‚Family Therapy‘ with Individuals, The Journal of Systemic & Strategic Therapies 29(4):40-48, 1983

5) White and Epston: Narrative means to therapeutic ends, W.W. Norton, 1990

The above four are „texts of pleasure“. When I got to know the Systemic model that allows us to leave the Medical model, I could feel a sense of happiness. The history of Family Therapy is a history of people who worked diligently on the problematization, and it is the science in that the hypotheses should be vertified until it is established or not. Top four articles had the hypothesis in order:

(1) we could focus the communication rather than the inner world of the psyche in order to understand the people,

(2) it is essential to gather the whole families for the interview and observe their interactions firsthand,

(3) the attempted solutions rather than all of the intra-family communication is important for the problem formations, and

(4) „Family Therapy“ or Systemic treatment is available even if only one client comes to the interview.

Today, when writing this text, July 10, 2020 is the day I left Japan to study at MRI. It’s exactly 30 years since then. Fortunately, the harvest of the year has been the greatest. One thing after another, many things have captured my interest and shaped my practice, and they still do. It goes on. In that first step, without doubt, Paul was there. On the front and back of all these writings, Paul is just as much alive as he was alive.


THE AUTHOR: Yasunaga Komori, M.D. got the Medical License in 1985 and started the career as a Pediatrician. In 1990/1991 he got the Brief/Narrative therapy training at MRI. In 1995 he switched to Psychiatry and now is working in Aichi Cancer Center as a Psycho-Oncologist. He co-authored the article with Prof. Stefan Geyerhofer: Die Integration poststrukturalistischer Modelle von Familienkurzzeittherapie (In Watzlawick, Paul und Nardon, Giorgio (Hsg.) Kurzzeittherapie und Wirklichkeit. Piper, Munchen, 1999).

He translated “Counseling Elders and their families” by Herr and Weakland, and many Narrative Therapy books including “Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends”by White and Epston. He is the editor-in-chief of “Japanese Journal of Family Therapy” (2013-2021).

Aktuell: An Interview with Yasunaga Komori of the Japan Graphic Medicine Association for

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