You are on page 1of 2

Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

1989, Vol. 15, No. 2, 109-110

VIRGINIA SATIR: IN MEMORIAM*
Bunny S. Duhl
Boston Family Institute
We are pausing a t the end of this plenary entitled, “The Play’s the Thing,” to
remember, acknowledge and honor Virginia Satir, one person who celebrated play and
the creative use of self more than anyone else I know.
For those of you who don’t know, Virginia died peacefully September loth, of
pancreatic and liver cancer, discovered and diagnosed in July of this year. I refer you to
John Banmen’s excellent recent article in the AAMFT Family Therapy News (Septemberioctober, 1988), in your folder, to learn more about her life.
Virginia is often called a pioneer, or the Columbus of family therapy. She was the
first woman pioneer in family therapy, and an important role model for many women
who followed. She started seeing families of schizophrenicsand other hospitalized patients
in 1950. Her landmark book, Conjoint Family Therapy, still a classic, published in 1964,
helped launch this field. The book summarized her learnings about family systems in
the years she worked with Jules Riskin and Don Jackson as Director of Training at
MRI, and meetings with Gregory Bateson. Lynn Hoffman, one of today’s presenters,
helped Virginia organize that work. Virginia went on to write several more books-the
most famous of which perhaps is Peoplemaking, written for the layman.
Some have accused Virginia of “deserting the field” of family therapy; I would
reframe that. The field Virginia helped create could not contain her. Her earliest awarenesses informed her that low self-esteem was a key central issue in the mental health/
mental illness continuum. She then took it upon herself to explore every avenue of
human endeavor-actions, dreams, expectations, thoughts, feelings, rules, yearnings,
myths, beliefs, wishes-all that contributed to treating or detracting from high selfesteem. She explored with all forms of human communication. She expanded her work
with families to many other levels of system. Virginia worked with the governments of
Manitoba and California, and the judicial system in the State of Virginia. She created
and worked with the internal “parts party“ of each person. She accidently “invented”
multiple family therapy by mistakenly scheduling several families a t the same time,
and she consciously developed family theater and family reconstruction. Through her
books and workshops, she took her work directly to the public, by-passing therapists,
the middlemen. And through all her work all over the world, she envisioned and worked
for world peace. Virginia is probably the best known proponent of family health and
family process and family therapy in the world.
Virginia was a visionary, curious and fearless. She dared to cross emotional barbedwire fences and step into the landmined terrain of fixed beliefs. Once there, she tilled
the emotional soil to unearth a “yes” to life. She saw the jewel in every person and the
bondage each was held in by their rules for survival. Like a stand-up comic, she used
*This memorial talk was originally presented at the 46th Annual Conference of the American
Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, New Orleans, October 27, 1988. It appears here
with only slight modifications.-Ed.
Bunny S. Duhl, EdD, is Director of Training, Boston Family Institute of Maine, Portland, ME,
and in private practice a t 55 Williston Rd., Brookline, MA 02146.

April 1989

JOURNAL OF MARITAL A N D FAMILY THERAPY

109

hugs or whatever she needed to show people how they experienced in their bodies the constraints of their rules and the traps of their lives. She flung open windows and doors to new possibilities by tapping and releasing new resources within. sculpt. Through her theory-in-action. Virginia knew the power of questions . She possessed the freedom to touch. Virginia offered people a choice. She spoke of growth. Her work and teachings will continue a t the summer Training Institutes a t Crested Butte. using every resource she possessed. healing-never of “cure. Colorado. role play. a challenge and a path. You have a choice. . she always challenged: Where did you learn that? Who told you that? When did you make that decision? and she countered withYou weren’t born that way. 110 JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY April 1989 . Demolishing negative myths was always conducted by Virginia with true compassion for the persons carrying the myth.’ NOTE ‘Those who wish to learn more about the training programs offered by the Avanta Network should write to: 139 Forest Avenue. CA 94301. Virginia brought people into consciousness and out of their family trances.humor and metaphor to get to the heart of our unchallenged beliefs and our fear-based interactions. change.” And she never lost the individual in the larger systems they formed. perspective and self-esteem into each person’s hands. . Palo Alto. I will miss her. and showed them the work they had to do. Virginia gave herself totally to each situation. through people she trained in the Avanta Network. She put information. use ropes.