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It isn't a story that will likely be told about Yalom. And perhaps this is why he matters to so many therapists and nontherapists who have read his books or heard him teach. "Nothing the therapist does," Yalom has said or written various times, "takes precedence over building a trusting relationship with a patient." It's not hard to understand why so many people either want to be a therapist like Yalom or be his patient. If you can do both, so much the better for you.
The 1964 publication of Virginia Satir's Conjoint Family Therapy presented her down-to-earth introduction to the art of this new therapeutic approach, confirming her reputation as a pioneer in the field. From the early '60s—when her six-foot frame was augmented with three-inch heels and several inches of bouffant hair-do—the charismatic and controversial Satir loomed as a giant among therapists. Constantly on the road to the end of her life, she was a roving ambassador, even an evangelist, for a vision of family therapy as the means of healing a wounded world.
The hallmark of Satir's work was her extraordinary sensitivity to the nonverbal aspects of communication—height differentials, distance, voice, tone, eye contact, posture, touch, and movement. Much of the magic of her therapeutic style was the ease with which she used these nonverbal dimensions. She believed that if she could help her clients see, hear, and feel more, their personal and interpersonal resources would lead them to their own solutions. Lori Gordon expressed what many observed: "No one could hold on to their own pathology around Virginia."
It was always difficult for Satir to describe a family in abstract terms. Only when she was engaged with them fully with all her senses would she allow herself to think conclusively about the family system. And she always included herself in the description. So she might say, "I felt a warmth within that told me the son was open for some contact." She trusted that her neurology registered the necessary information about the therapeutic system.
Videos and audiotapes of her seminars capture Satir's genius better than anything she wrote, causing some students of family therapy to conclude, falsely, that she was soft on theoretical understanding. But, if pressed, she could easily rattle off abstract descriptions of systemic patterns. Her preference, however, was for simple language based on experiential observations.