Family Therapy

Family Sculpting Namibia Sand Dune
Virginia Satir (1916 – 1988), was a founder of family therapy.  Already in 1942 Satir began working with actual family members. She explored emotions, moods, the patterns of functioning and the ways families have of communicating and interacting with each other. She felt that each individual piece of behaviour made sense if seen within the real family context. Satir says, ‘Then I’ve got a system interpretation rather than only an individual one.’ (Haley & Hoffman 1967 p 124).

In the 1960s she began working with clients and their families together in workshops that ran over several days. This way of working Satir called Family Reconstruction. The participants were asked to find out as much as they could about the preceding generations in their family. At the workshop she would draw up a family tree (much like a genogram), going back three generations. Exploring the roots of family like this facilitated a process of being able to see the family history and stories with new eyes.

In 1962 a new form of working emerged with her clients, that of family sculpting, also in a workshop setting. And instead of the actual family members, participants from the workshop would represent them, forming literally a human sculpture of the family. By doing this she was able to reveal the communication patterns within the family. They would then work out more useful ways of interacting. She was a humanist and looked at the individual in terms of their potential to develop, grow and change.

She worked with and researched in Palo Alto for some years, with Gregory Bateson and Don Jackson, and when the Esalen Institute opened she became its first director.

Family contextual therapy
Hungarian born Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy (1920), immigrated to the United States in 1950. He was a trained psychoanalyst and at one time was a student of Virginia Satir. He also emphasised looking at the client in their life context, and looked for destructive patterns in a family that repeated across generations.

Boszormenyi-Nagy began developing this contextual approach many years ago; he felt that the existing theories did not explain enough about the family dynamic. He emphasised the hidden loyalties of the system, and the balance through giving and taking and the justice that a system will search for. This justice that the system demands can stretch across generations. In 1973 he wrote a book with Geraldine M. Spark called Invisible Loyalties, exploring these dynamics. Ursula Franke (2003), talks of the importance of Boszormenyi-Nagy’s theoretical model of systemic entanglements that it can be used as an explanatory model for understanding constellation work.

Image by Suzy Bernstein