Janet Beavin Bavelas, PhD, F.R.S.C. (February 12, 1940–)
Janet Beavin is a pioneer in the field of communication theory and contributed substantially to the field of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) through her research regarding therapeutic and interpersonal communication. She authored several books including Personality: Current Theory and Research and has co-authored Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradox, as well as the book, Equivocal Communication. She has published nearly one hundred articles in professional journals. Her work has been used to develop solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) as an evidenced-based practice.
Beavin began her education at Stanford University in 1961 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Beavin then went on to obtain a Master of Arts in Communication Research in 1968, and a PhD in Psychology in 1970 also from Stanford University. Prior to completing her graduate and doctoral degrees, Beavin was a research assistant (1961–1966) and later a research associate (1966–1970) for the Mental Research Institute of the Palo Alto Medical Research Foundation, commonly referred to as the MRI (Beavin Bavelas 2007). During this time, she co-authored Pragmatics of Human Communication, which remains as a foundational text in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy and communication theory (Watzlawick et al. 2011).
In the early 1970s, Beavin moved to Canada where she became an assistant professor at University of Victoria in Victoria, British Colombia (Signorielli 1996). She retired from this institution in 2005 as Professor Emeritus of Psychology. Beavin continues to research and provide lectures regarding the power of interaction and focuses on the study of face-to-face dialogue through microanalysis. She has received several awards for her work as a researcher and educator. Most notably, in 2012, Beavin received the Steve de Shazer award by the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association for her work as a researcher.
Contributions to the Profession
Beavin’s contribution to the field began when she collaborated with Paul Watzlawick and Don Jackson to co-author Pragmatics of Human Communication, a book that challenged traditional communication theory. Prior to the publication, the information-transmission model was used as the primary analysis of communication. The purpose of therapeutic communication was to gather information in the form of monologues between client and therapist. In this format, the therapist influenced the client and the direction of treatment. Beavin and colleagues believed that therapeutic communication should be more of a dialogue where communication is co-constructed between two individuals and involved moment by moment influence (Beavin and Watzlawick 1967). Beavin and fellow authors summarized the findings on interpersonal communication in five axioms: (1) it is impossible to not communicate. Even in silence, communication continues to occur. Anti-behavior does not exist. (2) Communication is not just the words expressed; it also includes how the sender of information wants to be understood and how they understand the receiver. (3) The nature of any relationship is dependent on punctuation. Communication is cyclical. Communicants structure the interaction and are interpreting their own behavior based on their reaction to the other’s behavior. (4) Analog modalities are also involved in human communication. Non-verbal and analog-verbal communication is just as vital as digital communication and one cannot exist without the other. (5) Interactional communication procedures are either symmetric or complimentary, which is based upon the relationship of the communicants (Watzlawick et al. 2011).
Beavin views Pragmatics of Communications as the turning point of her career and paved the way for her future research in the field of psychology and communication (Beavin Bavelas 2007). Beavin’s focus remains in the study of interactional communication and most notably, her research has continued to develop microanalysis of face to face dialogue (MFD). Beavin defined MFD as a detailed examination of observable communication as it occurs in the moment. Beavin’s communication theory places importance on the here and now interaction which has heavily influenced the practice of SFBT, a major MFT model and is taught in most MFT graduate programs (Bavelas et al. 2016). Her current research team includes prominent practitioners and researchers focused on SFBT who are using microanalysis to expose the power of language in therapy dialogues (Beavin Bavelas 2012). Beavin’s work has been essential in helping to define SFBT as an evidenced-based practice.
- Bavelas, J., Gerwing, J., Healing, S., & Tomori, C. (2016). Microanalysis of face-to-face dialogue. An inductive approach. In C. VanLear & D. Canary (Eds.), Researching interactive communication behavior (pp. 129–157). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
- Beavin Bavelas, J. (2012). Connecting the lab to the therapy room. Microanalysis, co-construction, and solution-focused brief therapy. In C. Franklin, T. Trepper, W. Gingerich, & E. McCollum (Eds.), Solution-focused brief therapy. A handbook of evidenced-based practice (pp. 144–162). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Signorielli, N. (Ed.). (1996). Women in communication: A biographical sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
- Watzlawick, P., Beavin Bavelas, J., & Jackson, D. D. (2011). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar