This 1956 double-bind paper proved to be one of the most influential and controversial in the history of family therapy. The discovery that schizophrenic symptoms made sense in the context of some families may have been a scientific advance, but it had moral and political overtones. Not only did these investigators see themselves as avenging knights bent on rescuing “identified patients” by slaying family dragons, they were also crusaders in a holy war against the psychiatric establishment.


Outnumbered and surrounded by hostile critics, the champions of family therapy challenged the orthodox assumption that schizophrenia was a biological disease. Psychological healers everywhere cheered. Unfortunately they were wrong. The observation that schizophrenic behavior seems to fit in some families doesn’t mean that families cause schizophrenia. In logic, this kind of inference is called “Jumping to Conclusions.” Sadly,. . . families of schizophrenic members suffered for years under the assumption that they were to blame for the tragedy of their children’s psychoses. Gregory Bateson’s subsequent books, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979), continue to have a major impact on family therapy theory and practice today. However, true to his training as an anthropologist, he remained skeptical about therapeutic intervention.


He often observed how anthropologists and missionaries accidentally destroyed the cultures they attempted to study, or help, by teaching them the cultural practices of their home countries.