Therapeutic Thoughts of the Week:

Virginia Satir: Theory in Clinical Practice

Therapeutic Thoughts of the Week – Virginia Satir: Theory in Clinical Practice

This week’s Healthy Minds “Therapeutic Thoughts of the Week” is intended to provoke thought and discussion pertaining to Virginia Satir’s work as it relates to theory of change, the role of the therapist, and therapeutic techniques. Virginia Satir is considered a pioneer within the field of marriage and family therapy. Her views toward change involve processes pertaining to human interface and relationships. Satir acknowledged and emphasized the role of self within the therapeutic relationship and facilitated the therapeutic process from a multigenerational approach.

Background of the Approach

Virginia Satir regards her ideas about therapy as working tools, which assists her to manage the therapeutic process, organize ideas, and conceptualize a case. Ms. Satir regards maturation as the most important element in therapy (Satir, 1967). She defines maturation as the state where a human being becomes fully in charge of himself (Satir, 1967). According to Satir (1967), a mature person is able to make appropriate decisions based on accurate perceptions and is able to take accountability for their outcomes.

Patterns of behavior which characterize a mature person are referred as functional (Satir, 1967). A functional human being is able to assert himself, be in touch with his internal self, be able to understand and differentiate aspects of himself from anything else, accept different-ness, deal with conflict in its context, and accept accountability for himself (Satir, 1967). A dysfunctional person is someone whom has not learned to communicate properly. In other words, a dysfunctional person will view himself and act incongruently.

Ms. Satir conceptualizes her ideas pertaining to a case through a communication theory model. She interprets communication to be interactions as well as transactions. Ms. Satir recognizes the importance of communicating clearly, the ability to ask questions, deciphering language, and responding appropriately. The processes involved in communicating illustrates whether the human being is a functional or dysfunctional communicator.

Role and Technique of the Therapist

In Virginia Satir’s book, Conjoint Family Therapy, she discusses in detail the processes involved in how she facilitates a therapy session and conceptualizes a case. Below is a brief outline illustrating her views toward the role of the therapist followed by in Satir’s language a “working tool,” which assists the processes found during a therapy session.

Role: Provide a welcoming and safe environment where family may take risks in examining themselves.
Technique: Build confidence in family, reducing their fears to instill hope about the therapeutic process.

Role: Reframe family’s disclosures where they may be received as non-threatening.
Technique: Focus on family’s strength and ask questions pertaining to what they are ready to disclose and discuss.

Role: Ask for information and provide information in a non-judgmental, matter-of-fact manner.
Technique: Therapist asks questions about facts pertaining to planning processes, loopholes in planning, information about self or other, information about roles or other.

Role: Create family-esteem and family-efficacy.
Technique: Therapist creates value statements throughout the therapeutic process highlighting the strengths and positive communication skills displayed by the family.

Role: Foster environment where family perceive they are equals with the therapist.
Technique: Therapist fosters a learning environment by acknowledging that he too is learning along with the family and admits to when interpreting something incorrectly.

Role: Decrease threat by creating rules accompanied to participating in therapeutic process.
Technique: Therapist establishes rules of interaction allowed during the therapy process.

Role: Reframe and re-educate family to view themselves in a positive, healthy, functional manner.
Technique: Therapist models healthy and functional ways for family to communicate with each other.

Role: Delineate appropriate roles and responsibilities to each family member.
Technique: Therapist refers to each client by their role in the family when discussing family issues. For example the therapist will address couples as “mom” and “dad” when referring to them as parents.

Role: Complete gaps in communication and interpret messages.
Technique: Therapist works to separate the relationship part of a message from its content. For example, a client may report to his wife the coffee was bad, which is then interpreted by the wife that she is bad.

Role: Explain and point out “double-bind” messages.
Technique: Therapist seeks clarification by asking questions to eliminate, highlight, or explain any underlining messages implied by specific statements made by family members.


Virginia Satir acknowledges that there exists no one way to facilitate positive change in a therapy session and recognizes the importance to integrate theories or ways of conceptualizing cases when necessary. Ms. Satir focuses her attention on the human interface, interaction, and transaction between human beings, paying special attention to the carrying on of behaviors. She views human experience as being dynamic, not stable, and incorporates ideas from dance, drama, religion, speech, education, and communication to meet and understand the needs of her families. Satir’s integration of life experience to conceptualize and understand human interaction and transaction is moving in the direction concurrent with systems theory work.

David P Sanchez, Psy.D., LMFT
Healthy Minds Licensed Provider

This week’s Healthy Minds “Therapeutic Thoughts of the Week” is intended to provoke thought and discussion regarding the application of one theoretical framework into clinical practice.


Baldwin, M. & Satir, V (Eds.). (1987). The use of self in therapy. New York, NY: Haworth Press, Inc.

Becvar, D. S. & Becvar, R. J. (1993). Family therapy: A systemic integration (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Brown.

Brothers, B. J. (1991). Virginia Satir: Foundational ideas. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc.

Harber, R. (2002). Virginia Satir: An integrated, humanistic approach. Contemporary Family Therapy, (24)1, 23-34.

Headley, L. (1977). Adults and their parents in family therapy. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Satir, V. (1967). Conjoint family therapy (Rev. ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.

Sayles, C. (2002). Transformational change – based on the model of Virginia Satir. Contemporary Family Therapy, (24)1, 93-109.

2018-07-10T18:38:05-04:00March 12th, 2015|Therapeutic Thoughts of the Week|

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