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Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir
  • (1916-1988) born in Wisconsin
  • Developer of the family therapy
  • Model for NLP

The Life of Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir was born in 1916 on a small farm in Wisconsin as the eldest of many siblings. Her father was a simple, uneducated worker, her mother came from a noble middle-class background and placed great value on education.

Because of the different backgrounds, there was a lot of arguing between the parents, but they never fought it out in front of the children. Nevertheless, the difficult relationship between the parents was always latent. The father tried to get his problems under control through alcohol. Partly because of the difficult parental home, Virginia Satir wanted to become a "family detective" at the age of five.

After graduating from college, Virginia Satir worked as a teacher and trained as a social worker. During this time she also completed a psychoanalytic training.

Following these training courses, she opened a private practice, where she initially treated only destitute patients, since as a non-medical doctor she was unable to gain access to other, paying patients.

  • 1955 to 1958 Virginia Satir received a teaching position at the Illinois State Psychiatric Center in Chicago. She also ran 2 private therapy practices, was involved in a school centre and worked as an independent consultant for a company.
  • In 1959 Virginia Satir founded the famous Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto together with Don D. Jackson and Jules Riskin. She started to give lectures and therapy demonstrations in different states.
  • In 1966 she left the MRI, devoted herself fully to her teaching and to the development of her "Conjoint Family Therapy" approach
  • In 1972 she met Richard Bandler, 22 years old at the time.
  • In the 70's she was in close contact not only with different therapists but also with different Indian tribes. Here she had found a source of spirituality for herself.
  • In 1977 Virginia Satir founded the "Avanta Network". In this non-profit organisation she wanted to bring together the people she had trained and who shared her values. She had the vision of a comprehensive peace between all people. She wanted to use her network to bring together the skills and abilities of those she had trained to support organisations, schools, governments, etc. in making peaceful coexistence between people possible.
  • The work of the "Avanta Network" focuses on the development and mediation of procedures that lead to an increase in self-esteem. In addition, the "Networkers" are concerned with the promotion of thought models that focus on personal growth. The members also work on the expansion and further development of interpersonal communication patterns.
  • After one of her life's wishes to demonstrate her work in the Soviet Union had been fulfilled in May 1988, she died of cancer on 10 September 1988 at her home in Palo Alto.



The satirical approach - self-worth and benefit of basic potential

Virginia Satir's aim was to show people how they could use their "basic potential" and promote growth and peace. "I believe that the greatest gift I can receive from someone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch the other person. When this happens, contact is made" - Virgia Satir

Human liberties

She expressed her basic attitude in the "Five Freedoms", which she wanted to help her patients achieve:

  • The freedom to see and hear what is really there at the moment,
    - instead of what should be, has been or will be.
  • The freedom to express what I really feel and think, rather than what is expected of me.
  • The freedom to stand by my feelings and not pretend otherwise.
  • The freedom to ask for what I need,
    - instead of always waiting for permission first.
  • The freedom to take risks on your own responsibility,
    - instead of always playing it safe and not daring to do anything new.

Negative communication types

Virginia Satir has devoted herself intensively to communication within the family. The communication model she developed knows four negative communication types:

  • Appease
    I always do everything wrong. - Associated feeling: I have to make everyone happy so that they love me.
  • Accusations
    You never do anything right. - Associated feeling: Nobody cares about me. As long as I don't shout, nobody does anything anyway.
  • Rationalise
    Associated feeling: I have to show people how smart I am. Logic and good thoughts are the only true thing.
  • Deflection
    Associated feeling: I will get the attention, no matter how extreme I have to act for it.

More about the Satir Model can be found here: Virginia Satir – The Four Satir Types