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Perhaps not Unexpected, Perhaps not Death: A

Eulogy for Gianfranco Cecchin (1932–2004)
CARLOS E. SLUZKI

G

ianfranco Cecchin, that magician of a family therapist, surprised us once again,
this time through his unexpected death in a car accidentFone of those without a
clear perpetrator to blame or circumstances to attenuate. How to reframe this news?
How to tap in on his unusual gift for finding surprising angles, irreverent associations,
novel formulations, and topsy-turvy but plausible alternative descriptions of events so
as to help us transform the shock into the reasonable, the painful into the tolerable,
the no-way-out situation into a panoply of doors? Would he have remorphed the word
‘‘unexpected,’’ making it, for instance, ‘‘expected’’ (a more philosophical approach
than our living as if forever), or ‘‘welcome’’ (perhaps for those of us afraid of a long,
lingering, painful agony), or ‘‘competitive’’ (maybe he wanted to beat Boscolo so as to
find a better seat in the Olympus of the dead and famous in the field of family therapy!), or ‘‘selfish’’ (just to join empathically with those of us who complain that his
death has robbed us of his always nourishing, joyful company)? Would he have suggested an alternative to ‘‘death,’’ proposing that his disappearing while in peak form
assures his steady presence among us for as long as his halo as a friend, a teacher, a
comrade in the forefront of the field of family therapy remains? Perhaps he would
have questioned the word ‘‘accident,’’ embarking into folk-epistemological and tightly
systemic disquisitions about whatever butterfly that moved its wings in whatever
Hong Kong so as to have that effect on him, his car, that road, that outcome. One way
or another, he would not have taken that information without transforming it magically into something else, something less painful than the news of his death, which
so many of us mourn.
Cecchin appeared in the field of family therapy as a member of the iconoclast team
led by Mara Selvini Palazzoli, together with Giuliana Prata and Luigi Boscolo. Originally a study group of psychoanalytically trained psychiatrists, guided by Mara’s
passionate if not stubborn drive and focus, they zeroed in on the work of Gregory
BatesonFnot studying it from outside, so to speak, but apprehending and enacting
that author’s worldview with total orthodoxy and without concessions, exploring what
would be the consequences of working with families while being totally faithful with
his (Bateson’s) lens. And, by George, they did it, and the product was reflected in their
famous book Paradox and Counterparadox cited in the notes. That focus led the team
to contact the group that had defined Bateson as their mentor, namely, the Mental
Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California, and to invite Jay Haley and Paul
Watzlawick to visit their center in Milan and exchange notes. That opened new doors,
and led to the team’s first visit to the Ackerman Institute and to the MRI in the late
1970s. And then came ‘‘Hypothesizing, circularity, neutrality: Three guidelines for
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Family Process, Vol. 43, No. 2, 2004 r FPI, Inc.

www. Over the years. & Ray. Lane. and many others enriched and articulated for this side of the Atlantic the contributions of that team.. Cecchin. And his clinical creativity was endless. G. discussing those sessions. up to a point. While being centered on their practice. in watching and discussing others’ interviews and conversing 1 Selvini Palazzoli. Gary Lane and Wendell Ray have been working recently with Cecchin on a new book. not to mention the thousands of videotaped hours of therapy and teaching that cover the walls of the Centro Milanese and of so many other training institutions.FamilyProcess. Milan systemic family therapy: Conversations in theory and practice. he authored a number of books collaboratively. CecchinFpast president of the Italian Society for Systemic Research. W. Gianfranco was a generous teacher. and when the original team divided. took the field by storm. IrreverenceFA strategy for therapists’ survival. Lane. (1994).. and his unintrusive and constantly ingenious way of exploring the many angles of a story’s reality. highlighting how their models had affected their logic and their clinical behavior. or at least many of us and he himself so complained. New York: Jason Aronson. bridges were quickly established between Milan and North American family therapists. a project that. circularity. (1978).. After that. G. with his slightly detached and immutable but tender style. In addition. London: Karnak. published where else but in Family Process in 1980 (19[1]: 3–12). further spelling out his models and practices. alas. In fact.. 1987).. and conferences. L. G.org . the Baltic countries. & Penn. the United Kingdom. My sense is that his cognitive style of pushing the envelope clashed with the formal restraints of a written delivery. and wrote some extraordinary articles. a respectful collaborator. Seeing him conducting an interview with a family. Paradox and counterparadox: A new model in the therapy of the family in schizophrenic transaction. the family was. New York: Basic Books. the Americas. and a warm friend. Boscolo. (1987). G. G. G. Karl Tomm.. L. This article contributed to set in motion a shift in the whole field toward a new level of systemic understanding of the family plus the therapist as a system.. Hoffman. and down under. with particularly strong presence in his own country. It boldly shifted the focus of the reader from the family to the operations by the family therapists. Gianfranco was clear in his referential frame and extremely articulate in the way he drew bridges between his practice and its guiding models. Boscolo. will have to be finished without him. W. the ratio between his creativity and his writing production is rather low. & Prata. Cecchin. Or is it that I (we) want more of him. of Gianfranco and Luigi Boscolo. neutrality’ reconsidered: An invitation to curiosity. L.. (1992). especially now? In fact. which he was instrumental in creatingFwas a steady animator of international conferences and a tireless conductor of workshops. in doing therapy with many of us behind the one-way mirror. Cecchin. a couple. Lynn Hoffman.. & Ray. Cybernetics of prejudices in the practices of psychotherapy. or an individual was a cognitive and esthetic pleasure. His intense self and his boundless curiosity and imagination poured daily into his training activities. M. London: Karnak. their work Centro Milanese di Terapia della Famiglia became one of the world’s key training hubs and established Cecchin as one of the most influential trainers.’’ That extraordinary article.. Peggy Penn. absent in that article: The protagonist was the therapists’ theories-in-action (borrowing Donald Schon’s term).’’ again in Family Process (26[4]: 405–415.144 / FAMILY PROCESS the conductor of the session. Cecchin.1 contributed chapters to a number of other volumes. G. P. among which his illuminating ‘‘‘Hypothezising. training programs.

Fam. and organize a huge party to celebrate his joy for life. upon his departure. He deserves that. and the gift of his connection. seminars. We miss him already. wine glass in hand. we should convene his broad international network of friends.SLUZKI / 145 collegially in colloquia. and just chatting during endlessly stimulating evenings. the fireworks of his sparkling mind. 43.. June. colleagues. disciples. Vol. We will miss him terribly. In fact. 2004 . and collaborators. Proc. round tables. not to mention his contributions to the field.