NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Virginia Satir (1916 - 1988)
Virginia Satir, pioneer family therapist, author, consultant, and teacher, was born Virginia Mildred Pagenkopf on June 26, 1916, on a farm in Neillsville, Wisconsin, the eldest of five children. After earning a degree in education and teaching for several years, she entered the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, where she received her master's degree in social work in 1948. In recognition of her distinguished career, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Social Sciences degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1973, and in 1976 she received a special alumni medal from the University of Chicago for her outstanding work in family therapy and human relationships.
Her early agency work included working with families at the Dallas Child Guidance Center (1949-1950). Returning to the Chicago area, she consulted for various social services agencies, conducted a private practice, and taught at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute. In 1959 she moved to California, joining with Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, and Jules Riskin in developing basic principles of human interaction and communication that have continued to serve as the theoretical foundation guiding the practice of family therapy. . That collaboration led to the creation of one of the first and foremost formal training programs in family therapy at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. As her vision broadened, she became a leading force in the human growth potential movement, serving as director of training at the Eselen Institute in the mid-1960s.
Satir's book Conjoint Family Therapy, published in 1964, remains a classic in the field and has been translated into a number of foreign languages. She published 11 other books in her lifetime, among them Peoplemaking, in 1972, and New Peoplemaking, in 1988, reaching a large international audience. Among her many honors, she was named a Fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy in 1973, elected President of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, 1982-1983, and in 1983 named one of the 100 most influential women in America by the 'Ladies Home Journal. From 1986 to 1988 she was a member of the California Task Force to Promote Se1f-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. During her lifetime she conducted hundreds of workshops around the world, presenting her "human validation process model.” Creator of a number of innovative experiential techniques, such as "family sculpting" and "family reconstruction,” her work emphasized health rather than pathology and focused on coping rather than problems, thereby enabling people to experience personal growth through self-affirmation and direct relationship change. Research studies have found her work to have greatly influenced the clinical practice of many social workers and other mental health professional.
-Michele Baldwin and Froma Walsh