The influence of the Milan approach: Five decades of intergenerational change. A conversation with Matteo Selvini
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy
School of Arts and Humanities
The ‘Milan Approach’ made an enormous contribution to psychotherapy and psychiatry and has been viewed as a bedrock in the family therapy field. Mara Selvini-Palazzoli made a revolutionary shift in the early 1970’s to abandon individual therapy and adopt family therapy to treat anorexia in young women. The goal of the three systemic principles; hypothesising, circularity and neutrality, proposed by the Milan Team is to elicit a useful method to interview families which encourages the production of meaningful information. The Milan group took special care of language. Rather than overly focusing on the label and referring to schizophrenia as a diagnosis, for instance, they used the term ‘families in schizophrenic transaction’. This perspective more realistically explored the origin of problems while looking at ways how to effectively generate change. In the early stages of its development, heavily influenced by the work of the MRI, the team adopted a pragmatic and strategic approach, however the focus gradually shifted towards semantics and the story of the system. While the ‘systemic identity’ was the principal guiding principle, the model was also influenced by social constructionism. This paper is a distillation of a conversation held with Matteo Selvini, son of Mara Selvini Palazzoli. We discussed the four key influential figures who developed the ‘Milan approach’, Selvini Palazzoli, Boscolo, Cecchin and Prata. The focus of the conversation is on Mara and on her influence shaping the approach, its evolution through the years leading to the creation of the Scuola di Psicoterapia Mara Selvini Palazzoli. Matteo also shares his own influence in the evolution of the school through the intervening years. He explains the adapted version of the Milan approach and the amalgam of the original and emerging therapeutic concepts. His key messages to therapists are the importance of working in teams and client follow-ups.