Experiential family therapy was founded by Carl Whitaker and Virginia Satir. They believed techniques promote communication and interaction, while emotion organizes attachment responses and serves a communicative function in relationship. They encouraged clients to relax defensive fears so genuine emotions can emerge, and in turn, illicit from partners or family a more compassionate and nurturing response.

Whitaker's model basically states that the cause and effect of family problems is emotional suppression. The tendency in family therapy is to confuse the instrumental and expressive functions of emotion by:

1. Trying to regulate children's actions by controlling the child's feelings
2. Dysfunctional families are less of the emotions that signal individuality
3. Children grow up estranged from themselves

The concept was to help families to uncover their honest emotions and forge more genuine family ties from enhanced authenticity.

Whitaker and Satir had theoretical differences in their approaches: Whitaker believed self-fulfillment depends upon family cohesiveness, whereas Satir believed in the importance of good communication among family members.


1. Carl Whitaker's idea of experiential family therapy was based on a pragmatic stance with the belief that theory can hinder clinical work.
2. Each family member has the right to be himself/or herself
3. Based on the belief of the family being an integrated whole, not a collection of discrete individuals
4. Familial togetherness and cohesion are associated with personal growth
5. Emphasis is on the importance of involving extended family members in treatment (especially the expressive and lively spontaneity of children)
6. Basis of this bold and inventive approach to family therapy was the result of Whitaker's spontaneous and creative thinking
7. Whitaker stressed the importance of genuineness
8. Techniques are secondary to the therapeutic relationship
9. Whitaker believed in this atheoretical approach based on the assumption that many times, theory is a way for the therapist to create distance from clients; it also helps to control the anxiety of therapists by allowing them to hide behind their "theory".