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Virginia Satir family therapy: its objectives and uses

Virginia Satir family therapy: its objectives and uses

August 8, 2022

Family therapy by Virginia Satir, co-founder of Palo Alto MRI and in charge of the training of students in this institution for many years, had a great influence on the interventions of systemic orientation 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 its Growth Model and we will make a brief review of its biography and its work.

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Biography of Virginia Satir

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 the institute. She later graduated in Education at the Milwaukee State Teachers College and worked as a teacher for a few years.


Later Satir was trained as a social worker; in 1951 he began to dedicate himself to this work, which would be the core of his professional activity. Soon after, he started working at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute. During this period Satir's preference for family intervention (as opposed to 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 had a prominent role in the creation of this institution were Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick, Chloe Madanes, Salvador Minuchin, R. D. Laing and Irvin Yalom.


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

Virginia Satir died in 1988. In addition to her contributions as a family therapist and as a social worker , which is 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 to develop more as human beings.

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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 remarkable similarities to the approaches of the humanistic psychological current. This author defined five general objectives in its Growth Model , name that he gave to his theory on psychotherapy.


1. Increase self-esteem

To Satir the concept "self-esteem" refers to our deep perception of ourselves and includes consciousness. According to their approaches a high self-esteem is related to the identification of the self with the spiritual energy.

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2. Encourage decision-making

In this sense, one of the objectives of Satir family therapy is the empowerment of patients so that they can take their own 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 the fact of 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.

4. Achieve self-consistency

Personal congruence is defined as the harmony between the experience of an individual and his "vital energy" , related to the transcendence of the self. In this sense, important aspects such as authenticity and sincerity, both by the client and the therapist, who should serve as a model.

Principles of your family therapy

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

1. Experiential methodology

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

2. Systemic nature

Although systemic therapies usually understood as basically focused on the family relationship In fact, the "systemic" concept also refers to other interpersonal contexts, to the interaction between the past and the present and even to the organism as a whole.

3. Positive directionality

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

4. Focus on the change

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

5. Self-congruence of the therapist

The congruence between the behavior and the self of the therapist is a necessary condition so that the therapist can help other people reach their own. The client perceives this congruence through tools such as humor, metaphors, self-revelations and creative behaviors in general.


Clinical Use of Family Therapy Clips (August 2022).


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