Paul Watzlawick, a pioneering Stanford University family therapist and communications theorist who believed people create their own suffering in the very act of trying to fix their emotional problems, has died. He was 85.

Mr. Watzlawick died Saturday of a heart attack at his home in Palo Alto, according to colleagues.

Born in Austria, Mr. Watzlawick gained fame for parting with Freudian psychoanalysis in favor of an approach to therapy that emphasized relationships over introspection. He trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and in 1960 joined the staff of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto.

As a scholar and a practicing therapist, Mr. Watzlawick wrote 22 books translated into 80 languages for both academic and general audiences. Emotional health, he believed, hinged on abandoning the ego and achieving well-being through effective communication with others.

In popular books like "The Situation is Hopeless, but not Serious" and "Ultra-Solutions: How to Fail Most Successfully," Mr. Watzlawick playfully promotes his theory that the worst way to find happiness is to actively seek it.

Mr. Watzlawick's research into the processes and principles of communication formed the foundation of the outward-looking therapeutic approach he developed with his Mental Research Institute colleagues, known as MRI Brief Therapy.

Mr. Watzlawick became a licensed psychologist in 1969. He stopped seeing patients in 1998.

In 1967, he became a member of the clinical faculty in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center and was clinical professor emeritus at the time of his death.

He retired from the Mental Research Institute in late 2006.

Mr. Watzlawick donated his body to science and requested that no services be held.