Relationship Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy




Virginia Satir (1916 - 1988)


Virginia Satir is internationally recognized for her creativity in the practice of family therapy. Based on a conviction that people are capable of continued growth, change and new understanding, her goal was to improve relationships and
communication within the family unit.


Considered to be a pioneer of family therapy, Virginia Satir, the founder of the Satir Model, stayed at the forefront of human growth and family therapy until her death in 1988. Virginia Satir believed that therapy is an intense experience with the inner Self. The therapist helps and encourages the client not only to accept and deal with the pain and problems, but also to accept and live an inner joy and peace of mind.


Virginia Satir worked with individuals and families for over 30 years, constantly developing methods and tools for enabling people to connect with, and love, themselves and others. Her legacy is a holistic model for human transformation that is instinctive, practical and easily accessible.


In her ground breaking work on family therapy, PeopleMaking, Virginia Satir describes two extremes of family life.

The Dysfunctional Family

Body language is stiff, tight and slouchy; faces are often blank, sad or sullen, like masks. Eye contact is rare and people do not listen to one another. Voices can be very quiet or harsh and agressive. There is little sign of pleasure in each others company and no demonstration of mutual liking. Humor is sarcastic, cruel or caustic. Adults issue commands to their children and people generally tell each other what to do.

The Caring, Nurturing Family

There are obvious signs of love and affection. People are honest and listen to one another. The feelings and needs of others are always considered. They can express their feelings and their ideas because they know they will not be criticized. Facial expressions are relaxed and movements are easy and graceful. People make eye contact and smile and laugh in each others company. Children are treated respectfully and are friendly and relaxed.


A family unit could be just two people. Any form of marriage counseling must take into account all the members of a family as each relationship within that family unit impacts all others.

Problem Communication

Problems occur when someone wants to express something but they moderate what they actually say because they are worried about the reaction they will get. Typically their are six reasons behind this failure to communicate:

  1. They don't want to hurt the other person's feelings
  2. They fear retaliation
  3. They feel bad that they have the feeling in the first place because they have low self esteem
  4. They don't want to damage their relationship any more than it already is
  5. They do not want to impose
  6. They hold the other person in contempt and do not value any communication with them

Satir Modes - Verbal Behavioral Types

Within these family units Virginia Satir goes on to describe five verbal behavior types, later to become known as Satir Modes. The way that these different types communicate with each other can be changed by identifying the bahvior and then choosing a more appropriate way of responding.


Arguments and poor communication can be avoided by responding in a better way, even when provoked by a verbal attack using one of these verbal behavioral types..

The Placater

The placater is always trying to please and will say 'yes' to anything. They apologise although the apology may be insincere, they never disagree, they want approval and act as if want nothing for themselves.


Outwardly they may say "I just want to make you happy. Whatever you want is fine by me." Their body language will be rather pathetic, it will make them out to be helpless. Inside they will be saying to themsleves "I am worthless, I am empty and I need you to feel alive".


  • "Oh you know me--I don't mind!
  • "Whatever anybody else wants to do is fine with me."
  • "Whatever you say, I don't mind."
  • "Oh, nothing bothers me! Do whatever you want."
  • "What do I want to do? Oh, I don't know--what do you like to do?"

The Blamer

The Blamer attempts to belittle other people and make them feel bad. They blame others for everything and use universal phrases like 'always' and 'never'. They accept no responsibility for their own behavior.


  • "The problem with you is that you never consider my feelings."
  • "Nobody around here ever pays any attention to me."
  • "You wouldn't care if i just dropped dead."
  • "Why do you always have to put yourself first?"
  • "Why don't you ever think about what I might want?"
  • "Why do you always have to get your own way?"
  • "You just don't how much you hurt other people"

The Computer

The computer is always very reasonable, upright and correct with what they say and how they behave and reveal no inner feelings. They are cool, dry and detached and their voices are often lifeless and monotone. Their vocabulary can be protracted and clumsy as they are trying to sound intelligent.


  • "If one were to look closely you might observe the real difficulty."
  • "It would appear that no real difficulty exists here."
  • "No normal person would behave in such an irrational manner."
  • "It seems that the advantages of this activity have been exaggerated."
  • "Preferences of the kind you have outlined are rather common in this area."
  • "There is undoubtedly a simple solution to the problem."


Their body language says 'cool and collected' but inside they are feeling very vulnerable.

The Distracter

The distracter is in their own world; whatever they say has nothing to do with what anyone else is saying or doing. their voice can change pitch (almost song like) and mismatch the words they are using becaus etheir thoughts are not focused anywhere. They ignore questions and continue on their own subjects without acknowledging the current topic of conversation.


Their movements are equally disjointed and they can adopt awkward postures that seem to imply that they are off somewhere else.

The Leveler

When you are leveling, you apologize when you realize that you have done sonething that you don't intend. You apologize for the behavior, not for your existence. In the same way you can evaluate and criticize others and not blame them. You can point out mistakes because they do not criticize the personality of the person but what they have done.


You may be being precise but you can still express your feelings. You explain your reasoning and say when you are about to change the subject. Your words will match your body language and the tone of your voice. You will be honestly expressing yourself. It is the one behavioral type that can cut through the problems inherent in the other Satir modes.


However, you can't always level. You might not want to be honestly critical of your boss as your job could be at stake, but generally it is a sound strategy.


Noone is either one or other of these types as we can all adopt different behavior in different situations. We do, however, have a preferred mode in specific situations. For example, you might lip into Blamer Mode when under stress, but otherwise be predominantly a Placater.


They are not personality types, per se, but they do seem to be universal behavioral types and as such they have developed as part of normal human behavior for a reason.

The Personal Iceberg Metaphor

There is a lot more going on under the surface of any of us. It is these parts of our personality that we should seek to identify and deal with in problem situations.


1. The visible part of our existence


Our Behaviour (action, storyline)


2. The hidden part


  • Coping (The modes we adopt when under stress)
  • Feelings
  • Feelings/beliefs about our feelings
  • Perceptions
  • Expectations
  • Yearnings
  • The Self: I am