Virginia Satir’s Family Therapy: Its Objectives And Uses

Family therapy by Virginia Satir, co-founder of MRI of Palo Alto and in charge of training students at this institution for many years, had a great influence on the systemic-oriented interventions that appeared in the second half of the 20th century.

In this article we will analyze the main characteristics of the therapy proposed by Satir, we will describe his Growth Model and we will briefly review his biography and his work.

Virginia Satir Biography

Virginia Satir was born in Neillsville, Wisconsin in 1916. During the Great Depression her family moved to Milwaukee, leaving the farm where they lived so that Virginia, the eldest daughter, could study at high school. She later graduated in Education from Milwaukee State Teachers College and worked as a teacher for a few years.

Satir later trained as a social worker; In 1951 she began to dedicate herself to this work, which would constitute the core of her professional activity. Shortly afterward she began working at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute. During this period, Satir’s preference for family intervention (versus individual treatment) was already well established.

At the end of the 50s Satir co-founded the Mental Research Institute, commonly abbreviated as “MRI.”, in the city of Palo Alto, California. Other therapists who played a prominent role in the creation of this institution were Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick, Chloe Madanes, Salvador Minuchin, RD Laing and Irvin Yalom.

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MRI was for several decades the fundamental core of American family therapy, especially when we refer to the systemic orientation. Satir directed the training of the students, so the influence of his ideas on this therapeutic model was very significant.

Virginia Satir died in 1988. In addition to her contributions as a family therapist and as a social workerwhich are summarized in the book “Conjoint Family Therapy” (1964), Satir left a series of inspiring publications with a poetic tone through which he tried to help other people develop to a greater extent as human beings.

Objectives of the Satir Growth Model

Satir’s work was derived from his personal values ​​and beliefs, which had a spiritual and self-transcendent character with notable similarities to the approaches of the humanist psychological current. This author defined five general objectives in its Growth Modelthe name he gave to his theory of psychotherapy.

1. Increase self-esteem

For Satir, the concept “self-esteem” refers to our deep perception of ourselves and includes consciousness. According to his approach, high self-esteem is related to the identification of the self with spiritual energy.

2. Enhance decision making

In this sense, one of the objectives of Satir family therapy is the empowerment of patients so that they can make their own decisions. decisions in pursuit of achieving a state of psychological and physical health. Personal transcendence would be related to the experience of freedom of action.

3. Adopt personality responsibility

Satir argued that experiencing our self completely allows us to take responsibility for it and truly know ourselves. Such facts would contribute centrally to the human development of individuals.

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4. Achieve self-congruence

Personal congruence is defined as the harmony between an individual’s experience and his “life energy”, related to the transcendence of the self. In this sense, aspects such as authenticity and sincerity are important, both on the part of the client and the therapist, who must serve as a model.

Principles of your family therapy

Five fundamental therapeutic principles have been identified in Satir’s methods of intervention; We will focus on them in this last section. These keys must be present throughout the treatment, since they are necessary elements for therapeutic change.

1. Experiential methodology

This characteristic mainly involves two aspects: the full perception of personal experience and the re-experiencing of significant events from the past as part of therapy. Satir highlighted the importance of a hypothetical body memory as a useful tool for therapeutic change.

2. Systemic character

Although systemic therapies They are usually understood as basically focused on the family relationshipin reality the “systemic” concept also refers to other interpersonal contexts, to the interaction between the past and the present and even to the organism itself as a whole.

3. Positive directionality

Satir stated that the therapist must help clients perceive the world positively, achieve physical and psychological health, and develop their maximum human potential. For this, it is necessary to generate a new interpretive framework for the experiences and enhance the use of personal resources instead of psychopathological aspects.

4. Focus on change

Satir family therapy focuses on personal and interpersonal transformation. With this objective, this author highlighted the usefulness of deep self-reflection questions at the individual level.

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5. Therapist self-congruence

Congruence between the therapist’s behavior and self is a necessary condition for him or her to help other people achieve their own. The client perceives this congruence through tools such as humor, metaphors, self-revelations, and creative behaviors in general.