Satir Transformational Systemic Therapy (STST), also known as the Satir method, was designed to improve relationships and communication within the family structure by addressing a person’s actions, emotions, and perceptions as they relate to that person’s dynamic within the family unit. Individuals seeking treatment may find STST to be beneficial, as therapists trained in the approach can often help them work through past trauma and develop a greater sense of harmony, oneness, and inner peace.
Virginia Satir, the developer of STST, is considered to be one of the primary pioneers of family therapy. She treated her first family in therapy in 1951, when doing so was still considered an unconventional practice. She stressed the importance of working with the entire family rather than just the person experiencing difficulty to her colleagues at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute, reasoning that issues experienced are often rooted in the family dynamic and may affect all family members. Her 1964 book, Conjoint Family Therapy, publicized her ideas, among them the fundamentals of STST.
Satir believed all people possess the capacity for growth and transformation as well as the ability to continue their education throughout life. In developing her technique, she focused on finding the inner self and stimulating change at the core of a person’s being. She believed people could access a spiritual Life Energy to influence their emotions and behaviors, begin or further the journey toward healing and growth, and improve interactions with others.
Today, STST is used in various parts of the world in individual, family, group, and couples therapy.
The foundational concept of STST is the belief all people are connected through a universal Life Energy, which can be accessed to achieve transformational change, develop and strengthen relationships, change behaviors, and develop positive life energy.
A few other important ideas guiding STST include but are not limited to the following:
- All people are innately good and have positive Life Energy at their core.
- Human beings experience themselves through the same universal processes: feeling, thinking, doing, expecting, yearning, and connecting spiritually.
- All people possess the necessary coping resources to face life’s challenges, though some may have yet to access these resources or may view any or all of them negatively.
- Problems stem from the ways people cope with them, not the problems themselves. In other words, the “problem” is not actually the problem.
- Treatment should focus on health, possibilities, and hope, not on pathology and problems, and treatment should utilize Life Energy to facilitate the natural healing process.
- Everyone has the ability to change. Even if external change is restricted or limited due to factors beyond an individual’s control, internal change can still be achieved.
- While we cannot change what happened in the past, we can change how those past events affect us in the present. By resolving past trauma we can live with more positive energy.
- People always do the best they can at any given time. Even destructive or otherwise negative behaviors serve to indicate the best coping possible at that time.
- We are in charge of our emotions. We can choose to hold onto positive feelings which provide validation and let go of negative feelings.
According to the Satir model, the pain people experience is the result of the way they manage their perceptions, expectations, emotions, and behaviors. By focusing on three primary areas—the Intrapsychic System, the Interactive System, and the Family of Origin System—people can examine their experiences and relationships, develop goals, and work toward change.
The STST approach has four main goals: helping those in therapy raise their self-esteem; become decision-makers; become responsible, especially for internal experiences; and become congruent—say what they mean and do what they say they will do. Proponents of this therapy believe people can increase their awareness and grow, through accessing and connecting to Life Energy, and therapists who practice this approach work to support individuals through this process.
The therapist guides the person in therapy through the process of setting therapeutic goals, which then become the focus of the individual’s work toward transformational change. Transformational change is believed to be possible through the use of these elements of the therapeutic process:
- Experiential, or presenting therapy in such a way that those in treatment are able to experience the effects of past events in the present while simultaneously experiencing their Life Energy. As an individual experiences both the negative energy from the past and the positive energy from the Life Force, an energetic shift may take place.
- Systemic refers to the necessity of treatment addressing both the intrapsychic and interactive systems of the person in therapy. As these systems are able to impact each other, when a transformational change or energetic shift occurs in the intrapsychic system it will typically produce a positive change in the interactive system.
- Positively directional describes the focus placed on health, growth, and hope. More specifically, therapy is thought to help the person in treatment connect with positive Life Force and experience the happiness and peace believed to result from the connection.
- The Satir Model is also change-oriented: therapists work to help individuals achieve transformational change.
- Congruence is also important, as it may lead to an improved therapeutic relationship, with the therapist being viewed as more actively engaged, caring, and genuine. Further, a therapist in touch with the inner self is thought to be better able to help people in treatment connect with their Life Energy.
Satir, who worked primarily in the fields of family therapy and social work, believed mental health concerns frequently related back to negative family experiences, and her treatment approach was primarily developed to address the effects of these experiences and help individuals achieve change and growth in order to heal. The Satir method is believed to be able to assist people as they work to achieve maximum personal growth, and therapists work to help people in treatment overcome inhibitions; develop courage, strength, and awareness; live in the present moment, and increase understanding of the self. This approach can also be a tool to strengthen interpersonal relationships and foster the development of balanced and healthy relationships through the process of self-actualization.
STST is often used as a family therapy approach. Satir emphasized the importance of incorporating families into therapy and addressing concerns in the family dynamic, rather than simply providing treatment to the individual experiencing difficulty. The approach is not limited to families, however, and is also used in group, individual, or couples therapy. Any individual experiencing conflict or differences and seeking to resolve them may obtain benefit from STST's resolution process, which involves reaching a congruent state of interaction.
Mental health professionals can pursue training in STST through the Satir Institute of the Pacific.
Four levels are available:
- Level I training is a 10-day course that can be attended 1 weekend per month for 5 months or as a 10-day residential intensive program. This course equips therapists with the training needed to access healing Life Energy, help people in therapy make changes in their intrapsychic and relational systems, set positive goals, and help individuals to maintain positive changes. Applicants are required to complete at least of 12 hours of work practicing specific aspects of the training program outside the classroom.
- Level II training, available after Level 1 has been successfully completed, is offered as a 10-day residential intensive program. Participants can develop their use of Self, connect with another person’s Life Energy, and help families resolve conflicts. Participants are required to complete a minimum of 12 hours of related work outside of the classroom.
- Level II Advanced traning is offered to mental health professionals who have successfully completed STST Level II training. This course is a 7-day residential intensive program that focuses on improving applicants’ confidence, congruence, and competence in performing experiential, systemic, and transformational change therapy.
- Level III training, a 10-day residential intensive program that trains mental health professionals in the application of STST techniques to depression, loss and grief, anxiety, trauma, and suicidal ideation, is also available to those who have completed Level I training.
One of the major criticisms of the Satir Model is the foundation belief that people always do their best in any given situation. Some critics have argued this may not be true of some individuals who, for example, did not utilize all opportunities available though they indicated they were capable of doing so.
The approach may not be beneficial to all people. Individuals experiencing severe, chronic mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and individuals with cognitive impairments may not find lasting relief from this form of treatment. The approach also lacks conclusive empirical support regarding its effectiveness, and future studies may lend more support to its efficacy.
- Banmen, J. (2002). Introduction: Virginia Satir today. Contemporary Family Therapy, 24(1), 3-5.
- Banmen, J. & Maki-Banmen, K. (n.d.). Satir transformational systemic therapy (in brief). Retrieved from http://www.satirpacific.org/uploads/documents/Satir%20Transformational%20Systemic%20Therapy%20in%20Brief.pdf
- Innes, M. (2002). Satir’s therapeutically oriented educational process: A critical appreciation. Contemporary Family Therapy, 24(1), 35-56.
- Satir Institute of the Pacific. (n.d.). Our training: Professional. Retrieved from http://satirpacific.org/our-training/professional