Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Prescribing the Symptom in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Linna WangEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_322

Name of Concept

Prescribing the Symptom


Invariant prescription; Paradoxical directive


Prescribing the Symptom is the most well-known paradoxical directives. It is one of the hall mark interventions in Strategic Family Therapy.

Theoretical Framework

Strategic Family Therapy is considered by many as more pragmatic than theoretical. It is very much influenced by Milton Erickson, and its theoretical roots are deeply connected to researches of theorists of Mental Research Institute (MRI), such as Paul Watzlawick and Don Jackson.

Milton Erickson broke away from the psychiatric foundations of his time. He viewed the unconscious mind as having the wisdom to solve problems and heal, rather than destructive. The therapist’s job was to help patients to gain access to that wisdom. Instead of devoting lengthy effort to interpret patients’ behavior, Erickson focused on the symptoms, developed different ways, including paradoxical interventions, to change people’s behavior and...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Haley, J. (1987). Problem-solving therapy (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Nichols, M., & Schwartz, R. C. (1991). Family therapy: Concepts and methods (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  3. Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. H., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  4. Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J., & Fish, R. (1974). Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Alliant International UniversitySan DiegoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Eli Karam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA