Carl Whitaker

Carl Whitaker's creative and spontaneous thinking formed the basis of a bold and inventive approach to family therapy. He believed that active and forceful personal involvement and caring of the therapist was the best way to bring about changes in families and promote flexibility among family members. He relied on his own personality and wisdom, rather than any fixed techniques, to stir things up in families and to help family members open up and be more fully themselves (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon). Whitaker's confrontive approach earned him the reputation as the most irreverent among family therapy's iconoclasts.

Whitaker viewed the family as an integrated whole, not as a collection of discrete individuals, and felt that a lack of emotional closeness and sharing among family members resulted in the symptoms and interpersonal problems that led families to seek treatment. He equated familial togetherness and cohesion with personal growth, and emphasized the importance of including extended family members, especially the expressive and playful spontaneity of children, in treatment. A big, comfortable, lantern-jawed man, Whitaker liked a crowd in the room when he did therapy. Whitaker also pioneered the use of cotherapists as a means of maintaining objectivity while using his highly provocative techniques to turn up the emotional temperature of families (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon).

Beginning in 1946, Whitaker served as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University, where he focused on treating schizophrenics and their families. He also helped to develop some of the first major professional meetings of family therapists with colleagues such as John Warkentin, Thomas Malone, John Rosen, Bateson, and Jackson. In 1955, Whitaker left Emory to enter into private practice, and became a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in 1965 until his retirement in 1982. Whitaker died in April 1995, leaving a heartfelt void in the field of family therapy.

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