Virginia Satir [1916-1988] was born in Neillsville, Wisconsin, on June 26, 1916. Satir attended the Milwaukee State Teachers College, now the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1936. She worked as a teacher for six years and continued her studies as a graduate student by taking classes in the summers at Northwestern University in Chicago, beginning in 1937. Eventually, she returned to school full-time at the University of Chicago School of Social Services Administration.
After completing her thesis and receiving her master’s degree in 1948, Satir immediately began a private practice, and within a few years, she was offered a position with the Illinois Psychiatric Institute. While there, she worked with other therapists to teach them the importance of addressing the whole family during treatment, not just the individual client. She recognized that the problems of an individual extend to the family, and often stem from the family.
In 1959, after relocating to California, Satir helped to establish the Mental Research Institute. Through the organization, Satir and her staff developed the first training series designed specifically to teach family therapy techniques. She became the training director and used her years of expertise to coordinate and deliver the program to clinicians throughout the country. She also led the training program at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
Satir devoted much of her career to helping people find the necessary mental health resources for their needs. In 1970, Satir founded the International Human Learning Resources Network, and in 1977, she created the Avanta Network. Both were intended to provide resources and support to mental health workers. Throughout her career, Satir provided hundreds of workshops and trainings in her family therapy methods, and she worked as a social worker and therapist.
Virginia Satir is one of the most commun names in the annals of family therapy. During her early professional years, she was part of a small group, including others such as Ackerman and Bowen, who made family therapy a major alternative to the existing therapeutic systems. A teacher who carried her message around the world, Virginia is often referred as the “Columbus of the family therapy”. Based on the courses she gave at MRI, her books written in 1964 and 1972 are two of the central texts in the field. She developed the Satir Growth Model, a comprehensive set of beliefs, methods, tools, and experiental exercises that support positive change in individuals, family systems, organizations and communities. In 1958, Virginia joined Don Jackson in founding the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California. Her major contributions to family therapy include: introduction and promotion fo conjoint family therapy into the mainstream of therapy practices; bringing a process approach to therapy that gave a major alternative to content and problem-solving approaches; providing a health focus to therapy by promoting a view of the world and of people that builds on possibilities, internal ressources, personal choice, and self worth; developing a three-generational approach to family therapy that has major tranformational results; using experiential learning as a dependable and viable mode for change; promoting and developing the use of “right hemisphere” interventions such a humor, meditation, trance, touch, voice tone, and affect; putting focus on the therapist, instead of any specific techniques, as the major change agent; developing a way of changing dysfunctional communication patterns to healthy patterns; expounding transformational approach that works at various levels of people’s internal process, such as yearning, expectations, perceptions, feelings, and coping reactions; and providing hope for thousands of clients and therapists that change is possible.
Her greatest impact was through her many workshops, demonstrations, month-long training institutes, and her modeling of congruency and belief in human beings. Her last few books established her not only as a master family therapist and innovator, but also as a founder and developer of a major, comprehensive family therapy system that can be practiced and taught by others than herself. Her techniques have been developed and her legacy includes the Satir Institute of the Rockies, Boulder, Colorado. And now also the Virginia Satir Global Network, based on her teachings, has the mission to promote the Satir Growth Model all over the world.
- Satir V (2001). Self Esteem. Berkeley, Calif: Celestial Arts.
- Satir V (1976). Making contact. Berkeley, Calif: Celestial Arts.
- Satir V; Bandler R; Grinder J (1976). Changing with families. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
- Satir V (1978). Your many faces. Berkeley, Calif: Celestial Arts.
- Satir V; Stachowiak J; Taschman HA (1994). Helping Families to Change. Northvale, N.J: Jason Aronson.
- Satir V (1983). Conjoint family therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
- Satir V; Baldwin M (1983). Satir step by step: a guide to creating change in families. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
- Satir V (1988). The new peoplemaking. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
- Satir V; Gomori M; Banmen J; Gerber JS (1991). The Satir model: family therapy and beyond. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
- Satir V (1972/1990 (reissue)). Peoplemaking. Souvenir Press Ltd.
- Englander-Golden; P; Satir, V. Say It Straight: From Compulsions to Choices, Science and Behavior Books, Palo Alto, CA 1991.
Honors and Awards:
- 1976 Awarded Gold Medal of “Outstanding and Consistent Service to Mankind” by the University of Chicago.
- 1978 Awarded honorary doctorate in Social Sciences from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
- 1982 Selected by the West German Government as one of the twelve most influential leaders in the world today.
- 1984 Named Honorary Founding Chair of PAIRS Foundation
- 1985 Time magazine quotes a colleague, “She can fill any auditorium in the country”, after her stellar contribution to the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
- 1985 Selected by the prestigious National Academy of Practice as one of two members to advise on health concerns to the Congress of the United States.
- 1986 Selected as member of the International Council of Elders, a society developed by the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
- 1987 Named Honorary Member of the Czechoslovakian Medical Society.
- She was honored in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.
- In two national surveys of Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists, she was voted the most influential therapist.
Most of the Virginia Satir’s archives were donated by herself in 1987 – and adding from the Aventa Network in 1991 and others in 1994 – to the Special Collections’ Library of UCSB (University of California in Santa Barbara). Click here to access the collection.