Three Central Concepts in Teaching and Learning with Paul Watzlawick: The Importance of Avoiding Negation, Distinguishing between Indicative and Injunctive Language, and Speaking the Client’s Language

John K. Miller & Wendel A. Ray

Published online: 20 Jul 2021 DOI: 10.1080/2692398X.2021.1942750 


During a 45-year career Paul Watzlawick and colleagues at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) profoundly influenced the development of the communication theory conception of behavior qua behavior, and the practice of marital and brief therapy. This paper highlights three ideas that Watzlawick emphasized as central to his conceptual approach as well as his clinical intervention strategy. Several case examples are included that exemplify how these three concepts guided his thinking and behavior in the therapy room. These three ideas include, distinguishing between indicative and injunctive language, learning and using the client’s language, and understanding and avoiding negation.

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