You Cannot Not Communicate – Paul Watzlawick

Paul Watzlawick
(1921 – 2007)

On July 25, 1921, the psychotherapist, psychoanalytic, sociologist, philosopher, and author Paul Watzlawick was born. He was best known for his approaches in the field of schizophrenia and his five axiomes in the theory of communication.

After graduating from highschool in 1939, Watzlawick studied philology and philosophy in Venice. In the 1950’s he attended the C.-G.-Jung Institute in Zurich for an apprenticeship in the field of psychotherapy and later worked as professor of psychotherapy in El Salvador, where he focused on communication and family therapy. At Palo Alto, Paul Watzlawick was able to perform main approaches in the double bind theory in the research group with Don Jackson, who founded the Mental Research Institute in 1959.

The five axioms developed by Paul Watzlawick explain human communication and its paradoxes. ‘One cannot communicate’ means that humans communicate as soon as they perceive each other. From this it follows that every kind of interaction is communication. ‘Content and Relationship’ explains that every kind of communication contains aspects of content and relationship, whereas relationship is determining the content. Another axiom describes that communication always depends on cause and effect, meaning that communication is based on punctuation of the partner’s communication procedures. The 4th axiom describes that communication is based on spoken language as well as nonverbal actions, such as smiling or crying. Watzlawick here seperated digital communication with a complex sytax and analog communication with high semantic potentials. The last axiom deals with symmetric and complements, meaning that a relationship between partners is either equal or unequal, which determines interaction. The partners either try to rule each other or pursuit equality. Even though Watzlawick earned much respect for his theory, the critics made their statements, too. They discussed that in reality it is hard to apply all axioms on the relationships between several family members. Also it was mentioned, that the theory does not give hints on how the relationships between interacting individuals can approve.

Other fields of Watzlawick’s research were for example a theory, he adapted from the thoughts of Heraklit meaning that too much of a good thing results in something rather negative or his theory of the construction of reality, discussing how the constant attempt to avoid problems really keeps them with the individual.

Paul Watzlawick was able to earn respect from many established psychoanalytics and therapists and influenced many researchers following his footsteps in the field of communication and family therapy.

At yovisto you might watch a presentation of Paul Watzlawik from 1987 in German language ‘When the Solution is the Problem’ (Wenn die Lösung das Probem ist).

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