Beyond Talk Therapy  

September 20, 2017

Author: Dr. Yung Tsang Sun May Grace (HKPCA Fellow, CCoun, ACounS)

“Talking Cure” has been the major approach in the counselling-psychotherapeutic field.

However, one must not undermine the effectiveness of “non-talking” approaches. The use of Multi-sensory Approach or Action Method had begun to occupy part of the stage since early 20th century. Psychodrama, Drama Therapy, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Meditation etc. found their places in the field.

In this workshop, I am going to share with participants Virginia Satir’s multisensory intervention strategy of her Systemic-Holistic-Multisensory Approach in therapy. I will include the philosophy behind her choices and some of her specific tools and skills. There will also be hands-on practices.

Virginia Satir (1916-1988) was one of the most influential teachers of therapists of her time and still remains an important teacher for many today.  She believed that within each human being is the capacity for growth, health and peace, and that there always are new possibilities for individuals, families, communities, and for the world.  She was described as truly original that no discussion of experiential family therapy would be complete without paying homage to her vision.

However, her unorthodox and unconventional approach was not fully recognized until some twenty years later, because some perceived her approach as not having a research-based theoretical back up, and others regarded her as ahead of her time.  Some therapists who had directly experienced Satir’s personhood and her ‘Tao’, suggested that the depth and breadth of the scope of her work could not be understood unless the therapist is fully present and practices out of a congruent archetype.

For Satir, accessing the life energy of each individual and facilitating the connection of all these energies through multisensory experiences were essential principles to enabling growth and health.  She was seen by her students as very loving, encouraging, and yet very tough at times.  She evidently held steadfast beliefs about human potentials and was known for persistence in co-discovering with the stars (a term she use to describe the ones who seek help from her) “the magic” within each of them.  Creating a growth enhancing environment, keeping an appropriate physical and psychological distance with them, “leading by following half-a-step behind”, teasing out universal human themes behind each presenting issue, and guiding them through experiential processes toward gaining new insights are identified as some of the elements that contributed to the effectiveness of her approach in therapy and supervision.

Over the past 20 plus years since her death, Satir’s approach has been subsumed in many other therapeutic theories, and many authors tried to organize her work into a theoretical framework.  In their Family Therapy Sourcebook, Piercy, Sprenkle, and Wetchler (1996) stated that “Satir’s ideas went beyond family treatment to encompass issues of spiritual growth and world peace.  Her views on the importance of interconnectedness among humanity pervaded all aspects of her work” (p. 85).  The family therapy and mental health field are increasingly aware of the powerful impact of spirituality on human experiences; hence, recognition of the spiritual aspects in clinical practices is deemed necessary and relevant today.  Satir’s Systemic-Holistic-Multisensory approach offers one avenue to consider the spiritual dimension.