Is "reverse psychology" a recognised theory? : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread


Can anyone let me know if "reverse psychology" is a proper psychological theory or whether it's just a bit of a myth?


-- Maryanne Gosling (, May 23, 2002


Yes, but not under that name. If you check the literature on family therapy, you'll see that there is an entire school of strategic family therapy that utilizes one version or another of "reverse psychology." The historical roots of the technique are diverse, and include the following:

Jesus: simultaneous call for conformity and change (described extensively in Jay Haley's wonderful essay on The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ, which is included in a couple Haley anthologies)

Knight Dunlap (1928): negative suggestion

Viktor Frankl (1950s): paradoxical intention

John Rosen (1953): direct analysis

Don Jackson (1963): teaching paranoid patients to be more suspicious

Milton Erickson: Encouraging Relapse

You can check an encyclopoedia of psychology for articles on strategic family therapy. There are various stratetic schools of thought, with the following perhaps the most famous:

Milton Erickson

Mental Research Institute (MRI): Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, Jay Haley, Richard Fisch, Don Jackson, Janet Beavin, Arthur Bodin

Milan: Luigi Boscoli, Cecchin; Mara Selvini-Palozzoli, Giuseppe Prata

Rome: Maurizio Andolfi, Angelo, Menghi, Nicolo-Corigliano

Ackerman Institute: Peggy Papp, Joel Bergman, Gillian Walker

Washington Family Therapy Institute: Jay Haley, Cloe Madanes

There are chapters on strategic family therapy in the 1981 and 1991 editions of the Handbook of Family Therapy. In addition, all of the persons listed above have written books. They focus on prescribing the symptom and often on designing a therapeutic double bind, which is a more complex version of prescribing the symptom that also includes prescribing the entire family system. In the end, these techniques work because they take advantate of socalled resistance and they also are sensitive to the complex ambivalence within persons and families: the good strategic interventions work because they address all sides of the "internal" issue. Such strategies are not without their critics. The 1991 edition of the Handbook of Family Therapy (Gurman & Kniskern) includes a chapter on ethics that has a wonderful analysis of whether or not we should use therapeutic techniques that involve deception. Most family therapists would say we should not use "defiance based" techniques until we've exhausted "compliance based" approaches. One of my students used to get his toddler to sleep by telling her that whatever else she did after laying down for her nap, she must not sleep. It worked! That's reverse psychology!

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (, May 24, 2002.

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