R. D. Laing's Connection to Family Therapy
R. D. Laing
Laing’s theory has been generally characterized as existential or social phenomenology, but his theory is very consistent with a systemic orientation and communication theory. Laing’s impact on the field of family therapy has been largely overlooked, though many of his ideas resonate with the current state of the field.
Major influences from psychiatry include Harry Stack Sullivan, who developed interpersonal psychiatry that is a forerunner of current family therapy theory. Laing was also very much linked with those that were early researchers and theory developers for the field of family therapy such as Gregory Bateson and Don. D. Jackson (Burston, 2004). A consistent reference of Laing to the double bind theory, as well as reference from Bateson and Jackson to many of Laing’s ideas helps to establish further this linkage (Bateson, 1972; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967).
Laing focused intently and uncompromisingly on the existential context of the person rather than solely on intrapsychic phenomena. His constant focus on the interpersonal aspects of experience gave rise to an emphasis on family relations. This emphasis on family relationships can be seen countless times through Laing’s writings. Laing in his presentation of ideas often used experiences from his own family.
Many of the early family therapists cite Laing as a resource and hold him in high esteem. Laing openly cites the Bateson group as influencing his work. Laing states, “I’ve been working with families and continue to be involved with different sorts of family systems and social systems” (Quoted in Cohen, 1977, p. 213), which further indicates his connectedness with the field of family therapy, however neglected by the mainstream of the field.
The follow letters are historical documents provided by Dr. Wendel Ray and the Don D. Jackson archive. The letters chronicle correspondence between R. D. Laing and Gregory Bateson and Don Jackson. This documents provide a clear link between the work of the Bateson team, which ended its research project in 1962, and the early works of R. D. Laing.
Laing to Bateson: February 3, 1961
Bateson to Laing: February 20, 1961
Laing to Jackson: March 14, 1961
Trist to Bateson (Concerning Laing): July 7, 1962
Laing to Bateson: November 13, 1962
Bateson to Laing: November 19, 1962
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