Larger than Life

Larger than Life

Marianne Walters Was Family Therapy's Foremost Feminist

By Mary Sykes Wylie

May/June 2006

Family therapist Marianne Walters, who died on February 21, 2006, at the age of 76, didn't invent a brilliant new therapeutic paradigm, publish a large and magisterial body of research, or establish her own unique school of clinical practice. Her name never had quite the instant brand recognition associated with some of the founders of the field--Nathan Ackerman, Salvador Minuchin, Murray Bowen, Virginia Satir, and the other immortals. A housewife and mother (who dutifully followed her economist husband around from one academic posting to another for years), she didn't even become a family therapist until she was nearly 40.

Yet, Walters probably had as great an impacto the overall clinical zeitgeist of family therapy, in her own way, as any of the master theory-builders and gurus. Along with her three comrades in arms--Betty Carter, Peggy Papp, and Olga Silverstein--she formed The Women's Project in Family Therapy in 1977, what family therapist Carol Anderson called "the first, biggest, longest-running feminist road show." It was a combination feminist think tank and SWAT team, which, in public workshops all over the country, challenged the underlying sexism in some of the most basic notions of family therapy. Largely at Walters's continued prodding, the four went on to write The Invisible Web, the first book to focus on women's relationships in the family and, more important, on how to bring feminist insights into daily clinical practice.

In these days, when…

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