Luigi Boscolo

(1932-2015). He became a pediatrician at the Medical School of Padua, then a psychoanalyst in New York City (1960-1967)

(1932-2015). He became a pediatrician at the Medical School of Padua, then a psychoanalyst in New York City (1960-1967) where he attended a course of psychoanalysis at the New York Medical College – Metropolitan Hospital; Silvano Arieti (1914-1981) and Nathan Ackerman (1908-1971) were his trainers. On coming back to Milan, he started to work as a psychoanalyst, sharing a studio with other colleagues among which Mara Selvini, Gianfranco Cecchin and Giuliana Prata. The encounter with systemic thinking brought all four of them to separate from the others and experiment, inventing together the Milan Approach.

Robin Routledge: Luigi told me once he was walking by a canal as a boy when a Mustang fighter airplane came and strafed the barges in the canal.  Bullets hit the ground near Luigi.  The plane circled around and came back extremely low with the pilot waving to him. One day he took me to a vegetable market in Milano and showed me how to shop for the best price and best quality. He grew up the son of a market gardener.

Whenever a hearse or funeral procession went by us, Luigi would touch his crotch.  When he touched Gianfranco’s casket, he touched himself without thinking.  He told me this is an old tradition he learned as a boy in the Laguna of Venice to ward off evil and to declare truth: it is a testament and comes from the word testicle.  He had become unaware of it.

Umberta Telfener: At the beginning of the ’80 I spent one day twice a month at the Milan Center of Boscolo and Cecchin in order to train as a teacher of their school. I live in Roma, there were no fast trains at the time and I would wake up at 4.30 in order to go to Fiumicino airport and take the plane. Many times because of the fog we would land in Genova and then have a more than two hours bus ride. The classes would start at 10. When I arrived I had already spent half a day moving. Every time Boscolo would see me, he seemed very cheerful and happy: “Ciao Umberta, nice seeing you! It’s a pleasure.” We would end the day at the bar Virgilio, commenting on what had happened in the class. “Which school do you belong to?” he would ask me nearly every time. You can imagine my disappointment. I never understood if he really thought of me as a Roman, and therefore not a student of their school or if he was trying to motivate me. I regret I actually never asked him, I just felt a little frustrated and sad.

Luigi was very surprised that Anna Castellucci and I have been single for long periods of our lives. He would tell us he thought it was a shame, that he thought we were intense and full of positive energy and then give us suggestions to become more seductive: “When you are in front of a man, sitting at a table together, you should move your index finger on the top of the glass you have in front, with a intense look in your eyes. Look at a man straight in their eyes, promising intimacy”. Anna and I still laugh at his suggestions and when we are together we often try and circumnavigate the glass with our fingers!!

Premises – he used to say – are like the soles of the feet. You cannot see them because you stand on them.

Marco Bianciardi: We are in 1980. The year before, not yet thirty, I had started my training in via Leopardi in Milan with Boscolo and Cecchin and I was enthusiastic about it. I felt that it was opening up hitherto unimaginable perspectives of freedom of thought for me. Unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to participate in a training group with Maurizio Andolfi in Rome: some colleagues from Turin had contacted Maurizio to start training, and he had replied that they had to form a group of students from Torino, so they proposed me to participate to the group.

My thirst for learning and training was such that I accepted, however without in any way questioning the training I was undergoing in Milan. So I began to attend an intense training weekend in Rome once a month, continuing to go twice a month to Milan for training at the Milan Center. However, I felt embarrassed, I didn’t know if Luigi and Gianfranco would have understood and accepted my decision or if they would have considered it a ‘betrayal’, or, in any case, a confusing and counterproductive choice for my training path. So I decided to take courage and talk about it to the ‘Milan’ masters.

In those years the annual residential meeting of the students took place on Monte Isola, a small island in the middle of a small lake in northern Italy – a location that helped to isolate oneself and concentrate on dialogue, research and discussion. It was in that context that I found a moment to approach Luigi and ‘confess’ to him – very fearful – my decision to superimpose two different training paths. His response – immediate, spontaneous, accompanied by a broad smile – was one of the most precious teachings I’ve ever received; giving me a benevolent look, full of respect, and also, I would say, of esteem, he simply said: “Excellent choice: as Gregory Bateson says, ‘Two points of view are better than one’!“.

Gloriana Rangone: I enthusiastically attended the training in Via Leopardi and followed the sessions of our teachers Boscolo and Cecchin together with colleagues. One day we attended a session conducted by Boscolo with a quarrelsome married couple who could not agree on anything. I remember our dismay when Boscolo raised both arms and said ‘I give up! You are suffering from malignant symmetry!” Amazed and intrigued, we wondered what would happen as a result of that unexpected intervention. Our amazement grew when at the next session the couple showed up smiling and in agreement, extraordinarily united to prove the therapist wrong.

We were all fascinated by the power of the intervention and also seduced by the idea of being able to transform that feeling of inability and disorientation we were experiencing in conducting our first sessions into a powerful move for change. So, it was that some of us fell in love with this intervention and decided to implement it in our own professional context. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences we, young therapists in training, faced when we tried to transfer what we had seen happening before our eyes to our Institutional contexts (certainly not prestigious like Via Leopardi!) in which we held marginal or non-chief roles. We were nevertheless able to laugh at our naivety and learn valuable lessons from that experience.

A lot of time has passed since then, but even today, when a student proposes a case for discussion or I supervise in training, I usually pay special attention to the context and role aspects. And the image of my teacher raising his arms and declaring his helplessness often comes to mind and reminds me that the most important learnings often occur in unpredictable circumstances.

When this happens I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude towards Boscolo. As well as, of course, an irrepressible urge to laugh….


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