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Famous Psychologists - Virginia Satir

Famous Psychologists: Virgina Satir

Famous Psychologists - Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir is one of the key figures in the development of family therapy and she is considered to be the mother of Family System Therapy.

Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir (26 June 1916 - 10 September 1988) was a noted American author and psychotherapist, known especially for her approach to family therapy. Rather than placing her focus on illness, Satir's style came to be based on personal growth. She was concerned with the health and healing of each individual human spirit by connecting with a universal life force.

She believed that a healthy family life involved an open and reciprocal sharing of affection, feelings, and love. Satir made enormous contributions to family therapy in her clinical practice and training.  Although Virginia Satir devoted her career to family therapy, she believed strongly in focusing on the self-worth of individuals. The family unit might be critically important, she felt, but the self-esteem of each member of the family had to come from within each person.

The following has been adapted from the Women's Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society and Encyclopedia of Psychology websites.

The oldest of five children, Satir was born on a farm in Nellsville, Wisconsin, on June 26, 1916, to Oscar and Minnie Happe Pagenkopf. She displayed what would be a lifelong desire for knowledge at an early age; she was reading by the age of three, and through her childhood she read voraciously, often saying that she would like to be a detective and unravel mysteries when she grew up. As one of five children whose parents had large families (her parents came from families of 13 and seven children), she was able to observe the family dynamic long before she had thought of becoming a therapist.

Satir received her early education in a one-room school, but by the time she was of high school age the family had moved to Milwaukee. She excelled in high school and upon graduation enrolled in Milwaukee State Teachers College (now part of the University of Wisconsin). She worked her way through school and graduated in 1936 with a bachelor of arts degree in education. 

For the first few years after she graduated, Satir was a schoolteacher. Because she felt she would learn more about people by being exposed to a variety of individuals and communities, she traveled to different cities to teach, including Ann Arbor, Michigan; Shreveport, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and Miami, Florida. She then decided to pursue a career in social work; in 1937 she enrolled at Northwestern University in Chicago, taking classes in the summer and teaching school the rest of the year. After three summers, she enrolled full time at the University of Chicago, completing her coursework by 1943 and her thesis in 1948.

After receiving her master's degree, Satir went into private practice. She met with an entire family instead of an individual for the first time in 1951, and it convinced her that therapy that included the family was more effective than working with the individual alone. She lived out her lifelong dream of unraveling the mysteries of family dynamics. Through the 1950s, she continued to focus on working with families. After her second marriage (she had previously married Gordon Rodgers) to Norman Satir ended in 1957, she moved to California, and with two other therapists founded the Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI). In 1962, MHRI obtained a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to begin what would be the first formal family therapy training program. Satir published her first book, Conjoint Family Therapy, in 1964. She traveled extensively throughout the 1960s and 1970s, conducting workshops and seminars.

Satir has written or co-written twelve books. Her first book was published in 1964 and called Conjoint Family Therapy. Peoplemaking was published in 1972. Another popular book, done in 1988, is The New Peoplemaking.

In addition to teaching and writing, Satir formed an educational organization in 1977 called the Avanta Network.  Its purpose was to support people from many different professions. Its goal was to give people the coping skills to help them change their lives and handle difficulties in their relationships. The Network continues to provide workshops today. They use Satir's exercises so that the student can experience new ways of relating to themselves and to others.  Avanta is now an international organization in 18 countries. They teach what is called the Satir Growth Model and one of her goals was that world peace could be achieved by changing individual lives.

In the summer of 1988, Virginia Satir was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She stayed active through the summer but the cancer spread, and she died at her home in Menlo Park, California, on September 10, 1988.  

Family Therapy

Family Therapy (adapted from the Wikipedia website.

Family therapy, also referred to as couple and family therapy and family systems therapy, and earlier generally referred to as marriage therapy, is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view these in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health. As such, family problems have been seen to arise as an emergent property of systemic interactions, rather than to be blamed on individual members.

Family therapists may focus more on how patterns of interaction maintain the problem rather than trying to identify the cause, as this can be experienced as blaming by some families. It assumes that the family as a whole is larger than the sum of its parts.

Most practitioners are "eclectic", using techniques from several areas, depending upon the client(s). Family therapy practitioners come from a range of professional backgrounds, and some are specifically qualified or licensed/registered in family therapy (licensing is not required in some jurisdictions and requirements vary from place to place).

Additional Information

For more information about Virginia Satir and mental health treatment, please click on the websites listed below.

Avanta: The Virginia Satir Network
ABAcon: Virginia Satir-Family Therapy
Encyclopedia of Psychology: Virginia Satir

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