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Therapy is not a Chat with Friends – the Place of Strategy

Watching an experienced systemic practitioner at work makes the work look easy. They listen, enquire, and respond and somehow magic happens; angry resistant clients become positive and cooperative, warring couples agree. It looks like magic but it’s not. What we can see is the art and behind that lies an intellectual activity that guides the process. These deliberate directions and goals have been referred to as strategizing.

Bower(note), protocols and practices that guide all therapeutic interactions, developed at Bower Place, include Advice. Advice is the practitioner’s response to the client’s request and fulfilling of the contract for change developed at the outset of each session. It may include direct advice, opinion, or direction or all of these. Advice is planful, and the product of the practitioner’s conscious and deliberate strategy in the pursuit of generating a difference that ‘makes a difference’. It follows the trajectory of earlier schools of family therapy.

The History of Strategizing in Family Therapy

Strategy has been central to family therapy from its inceptions with Palo Alto’s brief therapy, Haley’s strategic therapy, Minuchin’s structural therapy and Bowen’s psychodynamic approach, all locating the therapist, in an external position of control and responsibility. The Milan Team and specifically Boscolo and Cecchin represent a break from earlier approaches to strategy with the understanding that that ‘there are no “instructive interactions,” only perturbations of a system that will then change its structure according to its organization’ with interventions seen as stimuli ‘to deconstruct given premises and generate solutions that are unpredictable and not yet thought of’. Second order cybernetics, the position that those who observe a system cannot be separated from it, was a key theoretical difference from previous theorists. Karl Tomm, who worked with Boscolo and Cecchin proposed strategizing as the fourth guideline which he defined as ‘a conceptual stance, an active and conscious process in evaluating the effects of past actions, and in constructing new plans of action, in deciding how to proceed at any given moment in order to maximize the effectiveness of the therapeutic intervention’.

In Conclusion

Strategy is not a set of instructions or guidelines for change imposed from without. As the authors assert, ‘ In our opinion, it is not enough for a practitioner to enter a system for it to change, nor do we think that therapy is a ‘liberating conversation with therapeutic consequences’ (Dávila, 2022, p. 4), nor do we agree with the socio-constructivist movement and the narrative therapies that emphasize the purely linguistic aspects of therapy. We believe that therapy is a performative act: therapy is a creative, transdisciplinary, and transformative art that has to do with coordinated and dynamic actions. It is a second-order, dialogic, reflexive action-based practice that requires profound knowledge of the rules of change’. It is an art and a science.


Telfener, U., & Ticozzelli, E. (2023). Strategizing: The state of the art in the Milan School. Family Process, 00, e12900.

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