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About Virginia Satir

Who Virginia Was and Why She Mattered




Virginia Satir pioneered advances in the practice of family therapy that grew outward beyond the world of therapy. She believed that people are capable of continued growth, change and new understanding. Her initial purpose was to improve relationships and communication within the family unit. Ultimately her work, which was internationally recognized, grew to be accepted as applicable to all human communication and growth – within a person, a family, a community or a company. She remained a leading force for human growth and family therapy until her death in 1988.

The Satir Model she developed became a powerful framework for examining your self, your situation and your choices. She believed that counseling and therapy experience seeks to engage powerfully with the inner self. Counseling sessions encourage the client to face pain and problems, to accept the present, and to discover inner joy and peace of mind.

She continually planted the seeds of hope toward world peace. She once said, “The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world”.

Virginia Satir established professional training groups in the Satir Model around the world: the Middle East, Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, Central and Latin America, and Russia. The Institute for International Connections, Avanta Network (now The Virginia Satir Global Network), and the International Human Learning Resources Network are 3 organizations that embodied her work and teach people how to connect with one another and then extend the connections. You can find many places to discover Satir through our Institutes, Sister Organizations and Other Satir Connections.

Her world impact could be summed up in her universal mantra:

Peace within, Peace between, Peace among

Snap Shots of Virginia  by Margarita Suarez

When Virginia Satir talked about her life and who she was, it was usually to make a point in her teaching. This was because she genuinely enjoyed talking about herself and incorporated this into what she was doing most often: working. Her work was such an integral part of her life that inevitably she acted as if the two were one. Virginia shared herself and her stories with great feeling and enthusiasm. In her book Your Many Faces Virginia spoke of the diverse makeup of human beings, emphasizing the importance of accepting all of our diverse characteristics as who we are. She taught that by embracing what we see as our negative traits, we can effect transformation. To illustrate this point, Virginia shared her characteristics, associating them with historical and fictional figures. This is how she explained it:

When I divide these adjectives into positive and negative, the positive list comes out compassionate, sexy, wise, loving and funny, all faces I would be proud to claim to the outside world. The adjectives selfish, overburdened, and stubborn would be those faces that I would label negative. Formerly, before I understood what I know now, I would try to banish all traces of those characteristics I considered negative.

What I have learned is there is a germ of usefulness in each negative part as well as a germ of destruction in each positive part…

Since all of these parts reside in me, then I can say that inside me I have my Eleanor Roosevelt, my Marlene Dietrich, my King Henry VIII, my Old Woman in the Shoe, my Aristotle, my Jesus Christ, my Groucho Marx and my Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. (Your Many Faces 81)

Virginia’s openness about herself demonstrated a profound awareness that how people perceive and represent themselves affects how others see them. Thus, Virginia endeared herself to others by first being endeared to herself. In addition to talking about her many “parts,” Virginia also spoke about her height as an important characteristic. She claimed that her five feet and ten inches allowed her to see the world: “I was this size by the time I was ten. I haven’t grown any since I was ten years old. That put me in a place where I never got into competitiveness; rather, I felt free to observe anything that went along” (Russell 4). Virginia’s awareness of her own height combined with her emphasis on eye contact in a creative way. Often, when working with trainees, couples, or children and adults, Virginia would use a stool or chair to bring two people to the same eye level. This way, she argued, the taller person was no longer in a position of power over the shorter person, so the two were better able to communicate.

Virginia’s efforts to bring people to the same eye level reflects that in some ways her height had a more complex effect on her than just enabling her to see the world.

I don’t think that I move-in and take over people at all. I think I feel free to look at whatever I want to look at with confidence. And it’s possible to understand. You see, that’s another piece of it. I don’t get shut out. I think that’s why I could take people that nobody else would have anything to do with, because they were so high risk. They would say, Oh no, no one can do that—and wonderfully work with them.

Persistent, I am not really persistent in one way. I just know that it will happen; I don’t have to be persistent. I just move until it happens. I am not putting energy in there; I just know it will happen. It’s, “which door should I open now? Which piece should be lifted up now? And, where can we go in this little piece”? It’s more like a puzzle and a detective story than it is about working against the tide. And, that I also got very early. That’s been with me all my life. (Russell 4)

In the above quote we see Virginia speaking with self-affirmation and confidence about her work. She intended her faith in her work to be contagious, to seep out of the page, or whatever medium she was using, and into the heart of her audience. In her revision of Peoplemaking she wrote,

The New Peoplemaking is one of my efforts to make a positive difference toward enabling congruent adults. Using many experiences with families all over the world, I have written this book to support, emphasize, educate, and empower the family. We know there are better ways to deal with ourselves and each other. We have only to put them into practice. Each of us who does contributes toward a stronger, more positive world for all of us.

Each of us can make a difference; each of us is needed. The difference we can make begins when we develop high self-esteem as individuals. A big hope I have for this book is that it will help each of us empower and commit ourselves to congruence. Our congruent experiences and modeling will lead to creative ways to understand each other, care for ourselves and each other, and give our children a sturdy foundation from which they can develop strength and wholeness. (Introduction, x)

Family of Origin

Virginia emphasized the importance of family history and its influence on people’s lives, and she often used her own family background to illustrate certain points in her teaching. Virginia’s grandparents on both sides were born in Germany between 1870 and 1875. According to Virginia, both of her grandmothers came from a privileged socioeconomic class and married working-class men. Virginia later speculated that her grandparents left Germany in disgrace for what was then regarded as an unacceptable breach of social custom. Raised in a climate of negative feelings toward Germans Virginia resented her heritage for quite some time. She said, “I had a lot between me and my heritage, and I wouldn’t even go to Germany for many years. But, I have been going now since 1975, and this last time I really felt that I had come to my homeland” (Russell 2).

Virginia’s father, Oscar Alfred Reinnard Pagenkopf, was the youngest of 13 children. He was a farmer and had very little formal education. Virginia remembered, “I think my father always felt a little cheated because of that” (King 15). This feeling of having been cheated fit into a larger framework of low self-esteem that Virginia ascribed to her father. Even so, she learned a great deal from her father’s strengths, especially the importance of honesty.

Her mother, Minnie Happe Pagenkopf, came from a family of 7 children. Virginia remembered her mother as a person who was always looking for ways to fix things that were wrong. “I think that is probably one of the reasons I am successful with people who nobody else wanted to have anything to do with. I saw the potential. She taught me that” (King 17). Minnie felt education was very important, so much that she insisted the family move to the city when Virginia, the eldest, started high school in 1929.

Besides her parents’ differences in education, there were also religious differences between them. When Virginia was about five years old, she had appendicitis. Her mother, a Christian Scientist, did not want to take Virginia to the doctor. Her father waited, but seeing that Virginia did not improve, he finally took her to the hospital. Virginia’s appendix had ruptured. She was very ill and stayed in the hospital for several months. Despite this unfortunate experience, Virginia talked about her years growing up as good ones. She enjoyed the farm and the animals. She grew up learning a sense of ethics and values from her parents and feeling support from them.

Virginia was born on June 26, 1916 on her parents’ farm in Neillsville, Wisconsin. She was followed 18 months later by twins: Russell and Roger. After the twins came Edith in 1921 and then Ray, the baby, in 1923. As the eldest of five, Virginia felt a sense of responsibility for her siblings, and she talked about taking care of them during their years growing up on the farm.

The farm provided Virginia with numerous illustrations to use in teaching. One such story was that of an old cast-iron pot, which she used as a metaphor for self-esteem:

When I was a little girl, I lived on a farm in Wisconsin. On our back porch was a huge black iron pot, which had lovely rounded sides and stood on three legs. My mother made her own soap, so for part of the year the pot was filled with soap. (The New Peoplemaking 20)

She explained other uses for the pot.

[A]t other times, my father used it to store manure for my mother’s flower beds. We came to call it the “3-S pot.”. Anyone who wanted to use the pot faced two questions: What is the pot now full of, and how full is it?

Long afterward, when people told me about themselves—whether they felt full, empty, dirty, or even “cracked” I thought of that old pot. One day many years ago, a family was sitting in my office struggling to find words to tell each other how they felt about themselves. I remembered the black pot and told them the story. Soon the members of the family were talking about their individual “pots”, whether they contained feelings of worth or of guilt, shame, or uselessness. They told me later how useful this metaphor was to them. (20-21)

Virginia’s Education

Virginia described herself as someone who was always very curious about what took place around her. Having taught herself to read by age three, she had read all the books in the school library by the time she was nine. “When I was five,” she wrote, “I decided that when I grew up I’d be a ‘children’s detective on parents.’ 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. There were a lot of puzzles I did not know how to understand” (The New Peoplemaking 1). She continued through her life with this thirst for knowledge, always wondering what was possible, and pursuing the possibilities she found.

When she died, her personal library had over 3,000 books. Besides the many books about psychology & human behavior there were books, pamphlets, and audiocassettes on topics ranging from music and art to religion, the world, and its people.

Virginia never stopped learning and was always looking for answers. In 1988 she wrote, “Now, many years later, after working with some thousands of families, I find there are still a lot of puzzles. I have learned from my work, and learning opens up new possibilities and new directions for discovery” (The New Peoplemaking 2).

Formal schooling for Virginia began in a consolidated one-room school. “There were eighteen kids in the class and we made our own pea soup at lunch time” (Russell 4). She spoke of the seven years spent there as a time when she learned easily and enjoyed herself. When it came time for Virginia to go to high school, the Pagenkopfs relocated to Milwaukee. Virginia enrolled at South Division High School, where her love of knowledge continued to develop. Years later, “Ginger” as she is called in her senior annual, still remembered one teacher in particular, Estelle Stone. In addition to being a good geometry teacher, Ms. Stone taught Virginia that she could use any opportunity, even if something went wrong, as an opportunity to learn (5).

Attending high school during the depression meant that Virginia had to work while going to school. She also took as many credits as she could, and finished high school in 1932 just before she turned 16 (Russell 5). Rearing to go to college however she could, Virginia set her sights on the Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin), which she believed to be one of the best schools in Milwaukee.

I went to Milwaukee State Teacher’s College to see the registrar of admissions. I will never forget him. I showed him my diploma and told him I wanted to register as a college student. He said to me, “Well, how much money do you have?” I said, “I’ve got three dollars.” He said, “How are you going to go to college on that?” I replied, “Well, I always can do what I am going to do.” He registered me, and when I left, he called my mother and told her, “Your daughter is here and she has only three dollars in her pocket and I have already registered her in school. What about that?” My mother said, “Look, if Virginia says she’s going to do it, she will do it.” (King 20)

Virginia worked diligently both in and out of college to make enough money for tuition, books, and everyday expenses. She worked for the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and Gimbel’s department store. On weekends she took care of children. Despite her busy schedule, Virginia still managed to do very well in college. One sociology professor, Alma Allison, encouraged Virginia’s efforts outside the classroom, because she believed that education benefited from experience.

One very important experience for Virginia was working at the Abraham Lincoln House (ALH), a community center for African-Americans. Virginia was drawn to ALH because she wanted to work with and learn from people who were different from her. She began her work there as a second-year student and stayed until she graduated from the Teacher’s College. She explained her experience to Laurel King this way:

I had not met any black people where I was. I didn’t know them from anything. So, I said, I wanted to do that. I started out working there the second year I was in college and I stayed all the rest of the years. I did all kinds of stuff there. I started a nursery school; I did a play group; I did a dramatic group with young adolescents. Some of them were older than I was. (Russell 6)

Through her work at the Abraham Lincoln House Virginia had several experiences that opened her eyes to the reality of racism. She began to see the prejudice and harassment that black people confronted on a daily basis.

Virginia finished third in her class at the Milwaukee State Teacher’s College in 1936 with a B.A. in Education.

Virginia’s Teaching Career

Virginia’s first job after college was in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, as a public school teacher. Though she said the climate there as “rigid” and “reactionary” (Russell 7) for her taste, Virginia was nonetheless taken with her pupils. She was always interested in the family lives of her students. In fact, not long into her career as a teacher, she began to go home with her students to visit with and solicit support from their parents. It was here, perhaps, that Virginia’s idea of healing the family was born: “If we can heal the family,” she said, “we can heal the world” (Laign 20). After one year of teaching in Williams Bay, she became the school principal for a year.

Completing her tenure in Williams Bay, Virginia realized her high school ambition of being a traveling teacher. Her career took her to Ann Arbor, Shreveport, St. Louis, and Miami (Russell, King). The more she taught, the more she learned about her students and their families: “I realized there were a lot of things that needed to be understood that I didn’t understand and that’s when I decided to find some other place to get education. Somehow I happened on social work school. Someone told me about it; I didn’t remember who that was” (Russell 10).

Marriage and Children

Virginia started graduate school in the summer of 1937 at Northwestern University in Chicago and married Gordon Rodgers in December, 1941. She described the marriage as a romantic war marriage. They met at the train station when Gordon was a young soldier on leave, and they were together only a few months before he went back to the war. Early in the marriage, Virginia had an entopic pregnancy that resulted in a hysterectomy. While her husband was away at the war, Virginia pursued her studies, finishing the coursework for her master’s degree at the University of Chicago in 1943 and, in 1948, her thesis. Also at this time, Virginia began working with two young women, Mary and Ruth, whom she later adopted.

According to Virginia, when Gordon returned from the war, he and Virginia both discovered that they had grown too far apart to resume a healthy marriage. They divorced in 1949. Virginia’s second marriage, to Norman Satir, lasted from 1951 to 1957. It was during this second marriage that Virginia adopted Mary and Ruth as adults. Though her reasons for adopting them remain somewhat unclear, we can speculate that it was partly out of compassion and partly because Virginia could not have children of her own. Another factor may also have been an effort to save her marriage to Norman. The dedication of Virginia’s book The New People Making (1988) honors her adopted daughters: “To my daughters, Mary & Ruth and their children Tina, Barry, Angela, Scott, Julie, John, and Michael, who helped to texture me.”

It may be difficult to understand why someone so successful in helping others with their own relationships did not find herself in a life-long partnership. Virginia’s own words should suffice to explain her marriages and divorces:

Had I known back then what I know today, we would have had a lot of different things happening. But I didn’t know. You always look back with hindsight, and hindsight is wonderful for writing Ph.D. papers, but not very good for life. (King 37)

I have often thought had there been somebody like me around, something might have been able to be done. I also think I don’t see how I could have done what I’ve done in the world had I been married. And when I decided because I’ve been on the verge of marriage many times I said no, because if I wanted to roam the globe like I did, it wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair to me, it wouldn’t be fair to the people. At the point, I really feel it was a kind of destiny because I’ve been able to get to places. There are some people in the world who have other jobs to do.(Blitzer 39)

Graduate School

Because she was still teaching when she began her graduate studies at Northwestern, Virginia went to school three summers before she enrolled full-time at The University of Chicago School of Social Services Administration. This was just shortly after her first husband, Gordon, had left for the war.

While at the University of Chicago, Virginia suffered some hard academic knocks. She got her first “D” ever on a paper, and a professor actually told her, “you are obviously not cut out to be a social worker.” Virginia explained the negative reactions she received there on the basis of the school’s not wanting a married woman in its program, much less a married woman who was not “pledged to the traditional way of doing things” (Russell 11). She left school for a quarter but returned with renewed vigor. Undaunted, Virginia accepted what the school thought was a sufficiently awful placement to discourage her from pursuing her studies. She turned that placement at the Chicago Home for Girls into an extraordinary building experience, demonstrating that she could make the best of a difficult situation with little to no supervision or help. She finished her studies in 1943, but did not get her degree until finishing her thesis in 1948.

In 1975, Virginia’s power to overcome and transform hardship was publicly recognized by the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration Alumni, who awarded her a “Gold Medal” for service to humankind. As Virginia related the experience,

When I came to get the award, I said, I was privileged about getting this award because it meant something to me. But then I said, I can’t understand it. I came to the University of Chicago with stars in my eyes when I was a student and I found that it offered the same old things I had received at other institutions. And I said to myself, when I grow up I am going to do this differently. And you know, I got a standing ovation.(Russell 12)

Virginia’s Career in Therapy

As with her philosophical ideas, it is difficult to catalog everything Virginia accomplished during her career from 1936 to 1988. She began as an ambitious teacher and developed into a well-known international trainer, offering day-long and month-long workshops the world over.

After graduate school, Virginia entered private practice in social work and met with her first family in 1951. When she spoke of this meeting, she remembered learning the importance of seeing families as the best way to get the whole picture. By 1955 she was working with Dr. Calmest Gyros at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute, spreading the idea of working not just with patients but with their families as well.

Virginia enjoyed great success as a therapist in private practice and as a consultant to schools and other agencies. Her great capacity for working with other people, even the most difficult people, was noticed by many.

Virginia moved to California, where together with Don Jackson and Jules Riskin, she founded the Mental Health Research Institute in Menlo Park. In 1962, a grant from NIMH allowed MHRI to start the first-ever formal family therapy training program, under Virginia’s direction. Jules Riskin recalls,

She was extremely creative, forceful, and charismatic. She was gifted in developing new ideas but not interested in the details of doing research. She was an inspirer. I had my first experience in family therapy working as a co-therapist with Virginia. The experience was some-what like, although I’ve never done it, sitting on the outside of a fast moving jet airplane. It was quite thrilling.

In 1964 Virginia started to visit Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California. She was excited about the learning and working opportunities there, which included meditation and bodywork, and felt free to discover and try new things and ideas. She became one of the first Directors of Training, overseeing the Human Potential Development Programs.

Virginia’s Philosophy

Of all aspects of Virginia Satir’s life, perhaps the hardest to represent adequately is her teaching. Thankfully, the many books written by and about her provide a great deal of valuable insight. At the core of Virginia’s philosophy was a profound respect for human life and the potential of each person:

Human beings are a marvel, also a treasure, and indeed a miracle. My approach, the Human Process Validation Model is based on the premise that all we manifest at any point in time represents what we have learned, consciously, implicitly, cellularly. Our behavior reflects what we have learned. Learning is the basis of behavior. To change behavior, we need to have new learning. To accomplish new learning, we need a motive, a purpose, a nurturing context, and a trust in something from the outside to help us. (Satir Notes)

For further information on Virginia’s teachings, refer to Johanna Schwab’s “A Bare-Bones Overview” and Sharon Loeschen’s “Overview of Satir’s Process for Change,” both of which are located in the appendix.

Virginia The Pioneer

In 1964 Virginia published her first book, Conjoint Family Therapy, with her second book,Peoplemaking, following in 1972. Her notoriety grew through her books, the training she did, and her teaching methods. She was called a pioneer of family therapy and was increasingly in demand all over the United States and abroad. She became a Diplomat of the Academy of Certified Social Workers and received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. In 1973 she was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.

Her workshops and presentations had the power to keep people spellbound, as they learned practical things about themselves, communication, families, and communities. She used humor and made pictures by asking people to stand or sit in a certain way to demonstrate feelings externally. Using these tools of sculpting and role playing, she was able to create a safe place so that people could open themselves to new experiences.

Virginia went on traveling all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. In the late 1980’s she was finally able to go to the USSR, where she had wanted to go for a long time.

The importance of networking and support was a central message in Virginia’s teaching. She started two groups with this in mind. In 1970 the International Human Learning Resources Network (IHLRN) was established under the name Beautiful People. In 1977 Virginia founded The Avanta Network, later called Avanta, The Virginia Satir Network. She used these networks to develop various opportunities for reaching out to individuals, families, and other mental health workers.

One such project enabled Virginia to unite her love of families with her love of nature in one- and two-week family camps. Today the Satir Family Camps continue Virginia’s project of helping families in a wilderness setting. During the 1980s Avanta, with Virginia as the primary presenter, developed and offered Process Communities I and II. These residential, month-long training events held in Crested Butte, Colorado, became the Satir International Summer Institute and continued for several years.

In 1986 Virginia was invited to be a member of the Council of Elders, a select group of world citizens who meet with Nobel Laureates for World Peace. In 1988 Virginia accepted a position on the Steering Committee of the International Family Therapy Association and was appointed to the Advisory Board for the National Council for Self-Esteem.

In closing this chapter on Virginia’s career, it seems appropriate to quote from the unedited pages of her last book, The Third Birth.

I have been traveling the world now for about forty years. The time has given me the possibility of being in contact with about 30,000 people from different walks of life. Many of these people came because they wanted help with their problems in living, or because they wanted to learn how to better help the people who had these problems.

I have often heard, “Virginia, you have helped me to find so many good things for myself. Won’t you write down how you made that happen.” I have now heard it so often that I no longer feel that I can continue to ignore the request. I feel a deep humility for the expression of appreciation. I also felt tremendously awed by the immensity of such a task.

Memory flooded me of the hours and hours during days and nights that I had spent with people, preparing them for the many little steps they had to make in order to take the risks that would result in the change they wanted. I remembered the carefulness and patience with which I needed to proceed so that while they were facing the pain and uncertainty that often goes along with making change, there would be no injury to their self-esteem along the way. (3)

The following passage is also from The Third Birth, which Virginia was unable to finish. The text is available through Avanta as a desktop publication.

I have chosen this title to focus attention on probably what has been taken for granted. Like all other things taken for granted, attention is not focused on them and their usefulness fades.

Like people take good behavior for granted, and then focus attention on bad behavior which then gets recognition that is out of proportion. People soon forget that there is good behavior, and believe there is only bad behavior.

So it is with this title.

The first birth comes when an ovum and sperm find each other and unite. The second birth is when we came out of the womb, probably one of the most startling changes we will ever undergo. Coming from a place where it is dark, where there are sounds of the internal organs working, where the temperature is even, and where the context is water, to a place where it is light and sounds are completely different, the temperature is most uneven, and the water is found only in the bath, once a day.

The third birth is when we become our own decision-makers. Some people call this being mature. It occurs when we take charge of our life, stand on our own feet. Taking charge of this process of developing our uniqueness and becoming a responsible and responsive human, among our other human beings on this planet, is a vital stage of growth. Everyone who has lived has made the first two births, but relatively few have made the third. (17-18)

Virginia’s Illness and Death

Sometimes myths are developed about how a person has died, especially when that person enjoys the kind of widespread admiration that surrounded Virginia. Although I feel that the following is a truthful account, there may be some myth already built into this part of her story.

One of our biggest challenges is our transition from this life to death. It is a difficult time for the person leaving (dying), and for those who are left behind. Virginia’s illness and death were no exception. It was a challenge for her, her family and friends, and the many people she had touched throughout her life. Virginia used to say that she would live more than 100 years. She spoke of her 75th birthday celebration and indicated that she would invite Mother Teresa. She died at 72 years of age, which was simply too soon for her and the many she left behind.

At the end of May 1988, Virginia was not feeling well. She attended the Avanta Annual Meeting in June, at which time she complained of stomach pain. In spite of her discomfort, she carried on with her busy plans for that summer. In July she went to Crested Butte, Colorado, where she was working as Director of Training for the International Satir Summer Institute/Process Community Modules I & II. In those trainings she worked with Avanta members as trainers, too. Process Community Level II began first, and Virginia’s abdominal pains grew severe enough for her to go to the hospital at Grand Junction. The diagnosis was a pancreatic tumor that could be cancerous.

It became clear that she needed treatment, so Virginia left Crested Butte for Palo Alto, accompanied by Avanta member Diana Hall. She was then admitted to Stanford Medical Center. At Stanford Hospital the news was more serious. She had cancer, and it involved the liver as well as the pancreas. Even as ill as she was, it was not easy for her to leave Crested Butte. Since she was there for almost two months every year, Crested Butte had become a kind of second home for Virginia, a place she loved deeply.

Once the diagnosis of cancer was made in Palo Alto, it was clear that Virginia could not return to the training. This was of great concern to her, and she began to make arrangements for the training to continue in Crested Butte without her. Marilyn Peers, Avanta’s President from 1987 to 1990, went to California to be with Virginia and discuss what Virginia desired for the future direction of Avanta.

Virginia’s treatment options “included chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but these were considered merely palliative. She chose instead to undertake a nutritional approach with healing at home” (The Satir Model 328). Several of Virginia’s friends came to her home and worked around the clock to be with her and care for her. Others maintained a vigil of prayers and support by mail, phone calls, and phone messages.

Laura Dodson’s piece “The Dying Process of a Conscious Woman Virginia Satir” offers a very insightful and sensitive firsthand account of Virginia’s preparation for death. Laura tells of the fears and pain that Virginia shared with her in her last days and also of the ownership that Virginia assumed over her own death. She took charge of her death as she had always taken charge of her life.

In her home, Virginia continued to fight her illness through the nutritional approach: cleansing diets, vitamins, and minerals. By late August the vomiting and other discomforts she was experiencing led her to stop the treatment. She became more restful and quiet. Laura recalls Virginia’s words:

“What would you say, Laura, if I said I want to make my transition now?”

Quiet again. So profound words, so profound a moment. We sat quietly again for a couple of minutes. I found myself responding. “Virginia, if that is what you feel is right for you, I will help you.” She opened her eyes and the glowing smile I had seen so often on her face was there. Her eyes sparkled, “I am 72, I have lived a good life.” We looked into each other’s eyes for a time. (183)

Laura continues, “After an hour, I leaned over and asked, ‘how do you feel now about your decision?’ Softly and assuredly came back, ‘it is the only thing that gives me peace.’” (183) Later Virginia shared her decision with the family and friends around her. She also dictated a message to those who were not able to be close to her in person:

To all my friends, colleagues and family: I send you love. Please support me in my passage to a new life. I have no other way to thank you than this. You have all played a significant part in my development of loving. As a result, my life has been rich and full, so I leave feeling very grateful.

Virginia (Dodson 185)

Virginia’s last days seemed to be peaceful. She slept more, talked less, and listened to music. On September 9, 1988, a note came from her family reading,

To our beloved Ginny, We are gathered together in Flood Park as close to your home as we can get. It is a beautiful afternoon with the birds singing through the trees and your favorite black squirrels running across the lawn.

Each of us has voiced our fond memories of things that you have enlightened us with during the past. Some of the memories brought laughter and others a deep heartfelt appreciation for what you have given to us.

Your deep concern for all mankind will be shared by your family as well as others. Certainly our individual experiences with you have been different; but they have shared a common thread of love and joy.

We wish you peace and much contentment in your transition to a greater work. All of us in your immediate family will always remember your warm touch and your nurturing love and that wonderful smile.

Our love and joy to you forever.

Virginia died the next day, September 10, 1988. Laura remembers the moment this way:

When she did breathe a last gentle breath, with no struggle, we gathered around her bed holding hands. The ecstatic feeling was there again, though tainted with deep loss. She made it out of her body!

Almost without thought, ritualistic behavior fell in line. Jonathan, one of her doctors, who is Jewish, conducted the last ceremony in his tradition of breaking the glass as a symbol of transition. We spoke quietly to her. Some sang. (186-187)

Before she died, Virginia requested to be cremated. Her cremated remains were taken to Mount Crested Butte, Colorado, where she had bought a cemetery plot. I remember her asking several of us if we wanted to buy a plot with her, as it would be cheaper for three of us to buy it together. In Mount Crested Butte, surrounded by family and friends, her remains were given a final resting- place. Her grave is simple but beautiful. It has been kept and cared for by another of her friends Allen Cox. In that place Virginia still reminds us about her love for nature, the mountain, and people.

Virginia’s Legacy

Though Virginia did not live forever, her work continues through the many people she has touched. Since her death several books (see bibliography) have been published on her teachings and ways for us to work towards our “third birth.” Today Satir Centers and Institutes are operating all over the world. In particular, Avanta carries on her work with a current and ever-evolving scope.

Since Virginia founded Avanta in 1977, it has been a forum for developing ideas, techniques, skills and training. Through national and international conferences, workshops and training efforts, as well as the efforts of individual members, Avanta has used the inspiration and drive that Virginia inspired to reach thousands of people worldwide.


Blitzer, C. (1980). “Virginia Satir: Innovator in Family Therapy” Peninsula, May 1980, 37-39.

Chase-Marshall, J. (1976). “Virginia Satir: Everybody’s Family Therapist.” Human Behavior, September 1976, 25-31.

Dodson, L. (1991). “The Dying Process of a Conscious Woman—Virginia Satir.” In Barbara Jo Brothers

(Ed.), Virginia Satir: Foundational Ideas (pp. 179-187). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

King, L. (1989). Women of Power. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

Laign, J. 1988). Healing Human Spirits: Master Therapist Virginia Satir.” Focus on Chemically Dependent

Families, October/November 1998, 20-31.

Loeschen, S. (1991). The Magic of Satir: Practical Skills for Therapists. Long Beach, CA: Halcyon.

Rowe, D. (1978). Virginia Satir Interview.” New Forum, The Journal of the Psychology and Psychotherapy Association, Spring 1978, _____.

Russell, D (1990). “A Conversation with Virginia Satir.” University of California Santa Barbara, Davidson Library Special Collections.

Satir, V. (1983). Conjoint Family Therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.

_______(1997). Making Contact. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

_______(1975). Self-Esteem. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

_______(1988). The New Peoplemaking. Mountain View, CA: Science and Behavior.

_______(1996). The Third Birth—Becoming Your Own Decision Maker. Burien, WA: Avanta.

_______(1987). Your Many Faces. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts

Satir, V. & M. Baldwin (1983). Satir Step by Step. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.

_______(1987) The Use of Self in Therapy. New York: Haworth Press.

Satir, V., J. Banmen, J. Gerber & M. Gomori (1991). The Satir Model. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.

Schwab, J. A Resource Handbook for Satir Concepts. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.

Scully, C. (1975). “Family Theatre.” People 3:1, Fall 1974/Winter 1975, 11, 20.

Virginia Satir’s Legacy: Highlights of Virginia’s Life and Practice.

Michele and Bud Baldwin, Joan Winter, Through the Family and Beyond: Full Esteem Ahead: A Tribute to Virginia Satir. Santa Clara, CA, August 1991.

Discover more about Virginia and her teachings by going to the Shop where you will find writings
by and about her work, as well as DVD’s and CD’s showing her work.

We have included other links that offer more information about Satirs’ life.