I recently completed a training in San Francisco, and I had some time to explore the city during the evenings. When you think of sites to visit in the city, you would probably visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Warf, or Alcatraz. However, none of these sites were at the top of my list. My first choice was a small office building in Palo Alto.
The building is an important piece of marriage and family therapy history. The Mental Research Institute, founded by Don Jackson, MD in 1959, is recognized for foundational contributions to interactional and systemic based therapies. MRI members included names like Gregory Bateson, Jay Haley, Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, Dick Fisch, William Fry, Virginia Satir, and Insoo Kim Berg. People whose ideas have had a profound impact on my professional and personal lives.
Some of my fellow trainees asked me what I planned to do during my free time. I was met with puzzled stares as I tried to explain my desire to visit the MRI. In a way, their lack of enthusiasm was discouraging, but it was also helpful for a couple reasons. I enjoy the adventure of exploring new territory alone, but more importantly, I doubt they would appreciate the location’s significance. So, I jumped into my rental car and headed south on California 101 to Palo Alto alone.
The MRI is located in a residential neighborhood resting in the shadow of downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University. People walked and biked the sidewalks, and cars filled with college students raced past. Beautiful landscaping decorated the front of the building, and a courtyard was located in the center of the complex. The courtyard triggered a memory from graduate school. One of my doctoral professors, Wendel Ray, PhD, talked about the courtyard. He said MRI staff would sit and discuss cases, ideas, and research. As I stood there gazing into the courtyard, I tried to imagine the Bateson research team discussing an interview, or Virginia Satir providing supervision to therapists.
I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the individuals who once walked at the MRI. Their ideas challenged and shaped my development as a family therapist. It’s not that often that one has the opportunity to stand on the ground once trod by great teachers. I left that day feeling renewed and inspired.
For more information about the MRI please click here.
If you would like to learn more about the work of Don Jackson, MD, and the work of Wendel Ray, PhD in preserving early MRI artifacts, please visit the Don D Jackson Archive of Systemic Literature.
*Ryan Stivers, PhD, earned his doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Stivers is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Counselor, and National Certified Counselor. Dr. Stivers practices in residential treatment and serves as an adjunct professor for Liberty University Online.