During his undergraduate years, Haley published a short story in The New Yorker.
After a year spent in pursuit of a career as a playwright, he returned to California and received a Bachelor of Library Science degree from University of California at Berkeley and then a master's degree in communication from Stanford University.
He was widely acclaimed as a pioneering therapist, master teacher, chief architect of strategic therapy, and one of the founders of family therapy. Madeleine Richeport-Haley, Ph D, is an anthropologist filmmaker who trained with Milton Erikson.
He was director of training at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, co-founder of the Family Therapy Institute in Washington, DC, and founder of Family Process, the basic journal in the field. She collaborated with her husband, Jay Haley, for 18 years, producing therapy training films and the book The Art of Strategic Therapy.
Jay helped to introduce Erickson to the clinical public with such important books as Uncommon Therapy.
Haley also worked closely with Salvador Minuchin, who developed Structural Family Therapy.
In the 1960s and 1970s when psychodynamic approaches to therapy dominated, such practicality was commonly seen as heretical.
The here-and-now emphasis of Haley and others of his generation of pragmatic practitioners is now the norm for the field of psychotherapy. Strategic Therapy is any type of therapy where the therapist initiates what happens during therapy and designs a particular approach for each problem.
His method of therapy—he claimed not to have a theory of therapy—emphasizes creative and sometimes provocative instructions for the clients to react to.
The approach emphasizes careful contracting between clients and the therapist, experimenting with possible solutions (in a manner sometimes inspired by the therapist and sometimes inspired by the client), review of the results and informed resumption of experimentation until the goal of therapy is achieved.