Don D. Jackson

(1920 – 1968) Degree in medicine at Stanford in 1944

(1920 – 1968) Degree in medicine at Stanford in 1944,  he specializes in neurology in the U.S.Army and from 1947 to 1951 he worked as a psychiatrist first at Chesnut Lodge in Maryland then at the Washington School of Psychiatry under the supervision of Harry Stuck Sullivan. At the beginning of 1954, Jackson joined the research team coordinated by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson. The research group, later called The Bateson Project, consecrated his role in the construction of the Palo Alto School. In fact, in 1958 he founded, becoming its first director, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) with the aim of creating the training institute of the Palo Alto Medical Research Foundation. According to Ackerman (1970[1]), his death at 40 was both unexpected and expected. People knew he was ill but his vitality, the fervor with which he involved himself and others in many projects were disguising

[1] Ackerman, N.A. (1970). The Don D. Jackson Memorial Conference. Family Process, 9(2):117-121).

Marcelo Ceberio: Watzlawick once told me he had wasted two or three years creating this Structure Family Interview… It was an interview composed of five communication tasks in the family, and one of them was the question: “How, out of millions of people, did you two met?” The group wasn’t interested in the information, but in the process, who started talking, who agreed, who refused, who accepted, etc. “I don’t remember how many weeks, every Wednesday Jackson listened to interviews that lasted 3 to 5 minutes. Each time, at the end of that short recording, he gave the exact diagnosis… But not something like “They seem schizophrenic or have obsessive characteristics”… no… I remember well: he stated, for example, “If this couple will have a son, he will certainly be a criminal and if it is a daughter she will have psychosomatic problems.” I was dumbfounded… surprised, and I asked him: “Don, how do you, how do you come to these conclusions?” and he would give me an explanation as profound (ironically) as… “Well, based on how the mother laughs at that moment!”. I have never been able to understand how it was possible to arrive at such precise images and such clear prognoses. But listen to what happened… After having collected about sixty interviews of families with difficulties, it seemed important to me to add some protocols of normal families – it has been very difficult to make them come in – until in the end I found three families, yes, you heard correctly, three! And the most normal of the three I played to Don, for the first time he said, “Hmm, I don’t know… hmm… I don’t know… I’d like to hear it a second time,” and after listening to the recording again, he commented: “I don’t know… they seem normal to me…”

Mauro Mariotti: I think of Don Jackson, a unique author whom I have not met personally but whom I have studied more than all the other pioneers. Don Jackson, psychiatrist, worked on the topic of the etiology of schizophrenia, exactly the topic of my specialization thesis in psychiatry, in which I had found over 200 causes as etiology, indicated by meta-analysis. He had managed to shift attention to family systems, giving rise to this fertile field. A beginning of anti-psychiatry that cost me an exam in Pisa due to a heated argument with Prof. Sarteschi, Italian luminary of the time, defender of the sacred rights of traditional psychiatry.
There is a trace of development that we cannot forget from Sullivan to Jackson at the time “deviant psychiatrists”, up to Bateson who inserted anthropological concepts and together with Don generated the theory of the double bind. A trace that leads to the birth of MRI and its schisms, from the epistemological to the strategic current, to meet then with the currents of the East, from Bowen, Minuchin onwards, of a structuralist type.
When I get depressed about a difficult situation, I keep repeating to myself a phrase from him – which Carlos Slusky told me – “There are no impossible cases, only incapable therapists.”


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