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Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir
Born (1916-06-26)26 June 1916
Neillsville, Wisconsin
Died 10 September 1988(1988-09-10) (aged 72)
Occupation social worker

Virginia Satir (26 June 1916 – 10 September 1988) was an American author and social worker, known especially for her approach to family therapy and her work with family reconstruction. She is widely regarded as the "Mother of Family Therapy"[1][2] Her most well-known books are Conjoint Family Therapy, 1964, Peoplemaking, 1972, and The New Peoplemaking, 1988.

She is also known for creating the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, a psychological model developed through clinical studies. Change management and organizational gurus of the 1990s and 2000s embrace this model to define how change impacts organizations.[3][4][5][6]


  • Early years 1
  • Career as a therapist 2
  • Work and influence 3
  • Career as author 4
    • I Am Me 4.1
  • Bibliography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early years

Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir was born 26 June 1916 in Neillsville, Wisconsin, the eldest of five children born to Oscar Alfred Reinnard Pagenkopf and Minnie Happe Pagenkopf. When she was five years old, Satir suffered from appendicitis. Her mother, a devout Christian Scientist, refused to take her to a doctor. By the time Satir's father decided to overrule his wife, the young girl's appendix had ruptured. Doctors were able to save her life, but Satir was forced to stay in the hospital for several months.[7]

A curious child, Satir taught herself to read by age three, and by nine had read all of the books in the library of her small one-room school. When she was five, Satir decided that she would grow up to be "a children's detective on parents."[7] She later explained that "I didn't quite know what I would look for, but I realized a lot went on in families that didn't meet the eye."[7]

In 1929, her mother insisted that the family move from their farm to Milwaukee so that Satir could attend high school. Satir's high school years coincided with the Great Depression, and to help her family she took a part-time job and also attended as many courses as she could so that she could graduate early. In 1932, she received her high school diploma and promptly enrolled in Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.) To pay for her education she worked part-time for the Works Projects Administration and for Gimbels Department Store and further supplemented her income by babysitting.[7] She graduated with a bachelor's degree in education, and worked as a teacher for a few years.

Career as a therapist

After graduating social work school, Satir began working in private practice. She met with her first family in 1951, and by 1955 was working with Illinois Psychiatric Institute, encouraging other therapists to focus on families instead of individual patients. By the end of the decade she had moved to California, where she cofounded the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California. MRI received a grant from NIMH in 1962, allowing them to begin the first formal family therapy training program ever offered; Satir was hired as its Training Director.[7]


One of Satir's most novel ideas at the time, was that the "presenting issue" or "surface problem" itself was seldom the real problem; rather, how people coped with the issue created the problem."[8] Satir also offered insights into the particular problems that low self-esteem could cause in relationships.[8]

Long interested in the idea of [9]


Two years later, Satir was appointed to the Steering Committee of the International Family Therapy Association[10] and became a member of the Advisory Board for the National Council for Self-Esteem.[7]

She has also been recognized with several honorary doctorates, including a 1978 doctorate in Social Sciences from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Honors and Awards Received[7]
  • 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[11]
  • 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.[8]

Work and influence

Satir's entire work was done under the umbrella of "Becoming More Fully Human".[7] From the possibility of a nurturing primary triad of father, mother, and child she conceived a process of Human Validation. She continually planted the seeds of hope toward world peace. As she said (Align, 1988, p. 20): "The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world." With this overview she established professional training groups in the Satir Model in the Middle East, the Orient, Western and Eastern Europe, Central and Latin America, and Russia. The Institute for International Connections, Avanta Network, and the International Human Learning Resources Network are concrete examples of teaching people how to connect with one another and then extend the connections. Her world impact could be summed up in her universal mantra: peace within, peace between, peace among.

In the mid-1970s her work was extensively studied by the co-founders of [9]

Virginia Satir also significantly influenced Lori Heyman Gordon's development of the PAIRS ("Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills")[13] relationship education program. Satir served as the honorary founding chairperson of PAIRS Foundation.[11][14]

In 1984, Satir encouraged marriage and family therapists to shift their focus to relationship education:

External audio
You may watch Virginia Satir here [15]

Career as author

Satir published her first book, Conjoint Family Therapy, in 1964, developed from the training manual she wrote for students at MRI. Her reputation grew with each subsequent book, and she travelled the world to speak on her methods. She also became a Diplomate of the Academy of Certified Social Workers and received the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's Distinguished Service Award.[7]

Satir often integrated meditations and poetic writing into both her public workshops and writings. One of her most well-known works, "I Am Me," was written by Satir in response to a question posed by an angry teenage girl.[16]

Satir's role-play formats of "family reconstruction" and "family sculpting" are the precursors of Bert Hellingers Systemic Constellations, often mistaken due to an unclear reference in p 329 of Hellinger's book "Love's Hidden Symmetry."

I Am Me


  • Satir V (2001). Self Esteem. Berkeley, Calif: Celestial Arts.  
  • Satir V (1976). Making contact. Berkeley, Calif: Celestial Arts.  
  • Satir V;  
  • 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;  
  • 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. ISBN 9780831400743

See also


  1. ^ "California Social Work Hall of Distinction". Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  2. ^ "Webster University". 1916-06-26. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  3. ^ International Human Learning Resources Network Archived August 29, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Super Business Project Management". 2008-03-12. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  5. ^ The Satir Model: Yesterday and Today, Contemporary Family Therapy Volume 24, Number 1, 7-22
  6. ^ "Change Management Toolbook". Change Management Toolbook. 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Who Virginia Was and Why She Mattered," Virginia Satir Global Network, Retrieved November 26, 2012.[3]
  8. ^ a b c "The Top 10: The Most Influential Therapists of the Past Quarter-Century". Psychotherapy Networker. 2007. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  9. ^ a b "Virginia Satir Global Network website". 2014-10-02. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  10. ^ "International Family Therapy Association website". Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  11. ^ a b "Virginia Satir's Columbus Day Story Suggests it's Not Just the World that's Round," Fatherhood Channel, October 8, 2012.[4]
  12. ^ Robert Dilts and Roxanna Erickson Klein (2006) "Historical: Neuro-linguistic Programming" in The Milton H. Erickson Foundation: Newsletter Summer 2006, 26(2).
  13. ^ PAIRS Foundation. "PAIRS website". Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  14. ^ DeMaria, Rita, Building Intimate Relationships, "The Saga of PAIRS." Routledge, December 2002.
  15. ^ from PAIRS Plus 2 years ago Not Yet Rated (2012-10-08). "Virginia Satir Story about Christopher Columbus on Vimeo". Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  16. ^ "Satir, Virginia. "I Am Me," Fatherhood Channel, February 11, 2011". 2011-02-11. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 

Further reading

  • Nerin, William F. (1986). Family reconstruction: long day's journey into light. New York: Norton.  
  • DeMaria, Rita (2002). Building Intimate Relationships: Bridging Treatment, Education, and Enrichment. New York: Routledge.  

External links

  • Brief biography at Webster University
  • The Virginia Satir Global Network
  • PAIRS Foundation website
  • Say It Straight Foundation
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