Your World’s Better Because of Therapist Virginia Satir


Since March is National Women’s History Month, this is an excellent time to acknowledge the contributions of the psychotherapist Virginia Satir.

She was an influential therapist during her lifetime, especially in family therapy, and not just because she was six feet tall before putting on heels.

"Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible - the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family," said Satir.

Early Life and Career Bits

Satir (1916-1988) was the oldest of five children. Her parents, Oscar and Minnie Pagenkopf, owned a farm near Milwaukee. Virginia demonstrated her intelligence early on, teaching herself to read by age three. The family moved to Milwaukee so Virginia could attend high school. She graduated in 1932 at the ripe old age of sixteen and then worked part time while going to college.

As a therapist in private practice, Satir eventually began meeting with families. She started working with the Illinois Psychiatric Institute by the mid 1950s and was already recommending other therapists counsel families as well. After moving to California, she became one of the founders of the MRI or Mental Research Institute located in Palo Alto. MRI was the first place to offer formal training in the art of family therapy.

Ten Ways Virginia Satir Made Your World A Better Place

  1. Virginia Satir realized family therapy could help heal the world by nurturing the mother, father, and child unit through human validation. “The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world,” said Satir.
  2. She believed peoples’ real problems were created by the way they had learned to cope with life’s issues; that their ways of ineffective coping actually created the problems.
  3. Satir was a pioneer in understanding how having low self-esteem fostered inefficient and self-defeating behaviors in individuals.
  4. Instead of viewing people as pathological beings, she saw their problematic ways of coping and behaving as the result of negative family scripts or patterns.
  5. To remedy negative family learning, Satir helped families communicate their feelings, and re-structure their patterns to support the self-worth of each member. She helped families reenact their ineffectual behaviors so they could understand the family’s negative dynamics and make positive changes.
  6. Virginia Satir helped her clients to hear, see, and feel more than they had earlier allowed themselves to. This, believed Satir, opened people up to their own inner resources, allowing them to find their own solutions to problems.
  7. She fully engaged with the people she worked with, mentally, emotionally, and intuitively. She trusted her five senses and incorporated her personal experience into her therapeutic assessments and treatment.
  8. She was an artist at helping people reframe their past and present situations to view things in a more positive and productive way.
  9. Although an individual’s behavior might be considered bad, Satir believed the intention behind bad behavior is always positive.
  10. Working with the whole person was of primary importance to Satir. She wanted to develop “round” people. “I’m fortunate in being one of the people who pushed my way through to know that people are really round,” Satir wrote. “That’s what it means to me to look at people as people who have potential that can be realized, as people who can have dreams and have their dreams work out.”

Satir was also known for her comic wit and her poetic nature. This is from her poem I Am Me.

I can become intimately acquainted with me - by so doing
I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts - I know
There are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other
Aspects that I do not know - but as long as I am
Friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously
And hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles
And for ways to find out more about me


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