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Jay Haley, pioneer in family therapy

WASHINGTON -- Jay Haley, 83, a psychologist recognized as a pioneer of family therapy and a cofounder of the Family Therapy Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., died Feb. 13 of cardiopulmonary failure at his home in La Jolla, Calif. At the time of his death, he was a research professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University.

Mr. Haley was a proponent of brief therapies that focused on solving concrete and immediate problems rather than delving into the past for root causes. Developed by Mr. Haley's mentor, Milton H. Erickson, the approach also shifted the focus from the client in isolation to the social context, particularly the family unit.

"Working with more than one family member in therapy was a radical idea at the time," said Scott Wooley, a colleague at Alliant International University.

Mr. Haley once wrote that "my most significant contribution is breaking therapy down to a practice of specific skills -- of simple ideas, skills, and techniques. This is quite different from the non directive ideology the field had when I first got into it."

His direct approach occasionally brought him into conflict with colleagues who relied on more traditional approaches, as The New York Times noted in a 1985 article about a conference in Phoenix attended by a number of psychotherapy luminaries.

In a heated confrontation with a New York psychoanalyst who specialized in long-term treatment of troubled adolescents, Mr. Haley said: "When you say an adolescent had such-and-such a development history, that's just your dream, based on fantasy or hearsay. You'll never really know what happened in his past."

Mr. Haley insisted that it was "the therapist's job to change the patient, not to help him understand himself."

In 1974, he cofounded the Family Therapy Institute, based in Chevy Chase. Under his leadership during the next two decades, it became one of the nation's leading training institutes. He also taught at the University of Maryland, Howard University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1994, he moved to La Jolla, where he continued teaching, writing, lecturing, and making films.

He was the author of more than 100 scholarly papers and 21 books, including "Strategies of Psychotherapy" (1963), "Uncommon Therapy" (1972), "Leaving Home: The Therapy of Disturbed Young People" (1981), and "The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ and Other Essays" (1999).