For those of you not aware, family therapy (systems therapy) is an approach to counseling that has really taken off since the 20th century. Most of the theorists around this approach to therapy were around during the 1950's to present. In 2017 we lost one of the original members of this approach to family therapy. Salvador Minuchin. He is considered the father of Structural Family Therapy and he was 96 years old.
i had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Dr. Minuchin over the past several years. What originally started as a secretarial relationship 8 years ago evolved into something so much more and for that I will always be greatful.
To me, Dr. Minuchin was a mentor, a paternal figure, and my “family” in Florida. The therapy community lost a founder and theorist. I lost connection and a piece of my heart. We often talked about death since it was a reality for him but a small part of me believed him when he jokingly told me 4 months ago that he had decided to live forever. He was a giant of a man with lots to share with the many who reached out to him. His mind remained active and his desire to develop therapists was a passion to his last day.
As a mentor, he pushed me and pointed out my insecurities. He did it with such directness, yet gentleness and patience. I often wondered why he bothered with someone like me.... He has worked with so many who are much smarter!!! He consistently asked about my practice, would be genuinely excited for my ideas and progress, and would encourage me to stay systemic. I was blessed to have him in my life. And I was blessed to work with a genius. A genius who, in the years we worked together, helped shape and mold how I wish my therapy to be as well as remained open to my thoughts and ideas for himself. I’m nowhere near that person, yet, but he nudged me towards better. He showed me that even at 96 he continued to learn so we should never stop trying to be better.
As a paternal figure he showed me love that was unexpected. He welcomed me into his home, he extended his family to me, and he gently chided me when I would express frustration with “trivial” interpersonal conflicts. I found I could express my thoughts about school, my life, my practice... and all was embraced with dialogue and acceptance which became our "normal". He took the time to meet all of my family, to give my father a gift as a thank you for me... He would ask for my presence during events he held, and he would tell me how “remarkable” my puppy is while he played with her. I cherished the time we had together, from sharing a meal, to watching videos, to exploring thoughts, to discussing therapy.
As my “family” he would check on me... he respected me and entrusted me to be his voice to the public. he offered his home to me. And I would check on him! There have been multiple times my heart stopped when I didn’t know where he was… Was he OK? He’s not answering my calls or my knock… what has happened? And then I would find him shortly after, on some adventure and asking me why I allow myself to get flustered for no reason.
Two days before we had to say goodbye he asked me why I was so loyal to him. He made me cry. I was thinking the same thing about him.
He thanked me for loving him.
It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling as many may not be able to relate to the wonderful relationship we shared. He has quite the reputation from his work in the early years and many may, or may not, be aware of how his approaches have tempered over time as he himself did. I was blessed to experience a softer and more patient Minuchin who still pushed and still made you uncomfortable but I also was blessed with the opportunity to hear HIM process how it made him feel when he pushed me....
I’m very private about our time together because I took seriously the responsibility of his work and our bond was special to me. Yet I’m so thankful to have been blessed with his influence and his presence in my life. My 8 years with him is only 1/10 of his life and only a fraction of what he has accomplished. I saw a softer side of him that you don’t read about in textbooks and a vulnerable side that many forget exist in our iconic role models.
He gave me the best gift I could ever ask for. He gave me a place to belong.
Thank you for being such an influence “Thatha Sal”. You are loved. And you will be missed.
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