Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

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

Ordeals in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Diana J. SemmelhackEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_331


Action methods; Ordeal technique; Paradoxical interventions; Symptom prescription


The use of ordeals as a therapeutic strategy was developed by Jay Haley and is rooted in his strategic family therapy background and his long association with Milton Erickson (Haley 2011). While working with Erickson and learning hypnosis, Haley found that Erickson often used brief therapeutic strategies with clients that imposed on them absurd dilemmas which ultimately led to therapeutic change. Haley found that he, himself, was utilizing a similar strategy by, for example, “curing a women’s severe headaches by encouraging her to have the headaches as a way to get control of them” (p. 3). These strategic interventions became known as ordeals and are closely linked to the paradoxical interventions used in hypnosis and strategic therapy.

Theoretical Framework

Ordeals are grounded in strategic family therapy. Strategic therapy is a brief form of therapy characterized by the therapist...

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  1. Gardner, B., Burr, B., & Wiedower, S. (2006). Re-conceptualizing strategic family therapy: Insights from a dynamic systems perspective. Contemporary Family Therapy, 28, 339–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Haley, J. (2011). Ordeal therapy: Unusual ways to change behavior. Bethel: Crown House Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  3. Steenbarger, B. (1992). Toward science-practice in brief counseling and therapy. The Counseling Psychologist, 20, 402–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Zeig, J. (2007). A tribute to Jay Haley 1923–2007. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 50, 5–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Midwestern UniversityDowners GroveUSA

Section editors and affiliations

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