Minuchin, Salvador 1921–

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MINUCHIN, Salvador 1921–

PERSONAL: Born October 13, 1921, in San Salvador, Entre Rios, Argentina; immigrated to the United States, 1950; father, in business; married Patricia Pittluck (a psychologist), October 14, 1951; children: Daniel, Jean. Education: University of Cordoba, M.D., 1947; William A. White Institute, certificate in psychoanalysis, 1967.

ADDRESSES: Home—308 Commonwealth Ave., Apt. K, Boston, MA 02115-2430.

CAREER: Served as volunteer doctor in Israel, late 1940s; Bellevue Hospital, New York, NY, part-time resident in psychiatry, 1950; Jewish Board of Guardians, New York, NY, worked with disturbed children; codirector of five residential institutions for disturbed children in Israel, beginning 1951; Wiltwyck School for Boys, worked as family therapist; Univer-sity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, professor of pediatrics and child psychology, 1965–83; New York University, New York, NY, research professor of psychiatry, 1983–96. Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, director, 1965–75, director emeritus, 1975–; Family Studies, Inc., founder, 1981, principal, 1981–96.

MEMBER: American Orthopsychiatric Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of Philadelphia, 1978, for research and clinical work and for book Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context; Blanche Ittleson Award, American Orthopsychiatric Association, 1982; awards from American Family Therapy Association, 1982, and American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 1984; Esther Haar Award, 1994, for Institutionalizing Madness: Families, Therapy, and Society; award from Anorexia Nervosa Association ANAD.


(With others) Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1967.

Families and Family Therapy, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1974.

(With Bernice L. Rosman and Lester Baker) Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1979.

Family Kaleidoscope, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1984.

(With Joel Elizur and contributions by Mordechai Kaffman) Institutionalizing Madness: Families, Therapy, and Society, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Michael P. Nichols) Family Healing: Tales of Hope and Renewal from Family Therapy, Free Press (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Wai-Yung Lee and George M. Simon) Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation, John Wiley and Sons (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Patricia Minuchin and Jorge Colapinto) Working with Families of the Poor, Guilford Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Contributor to numerous books. Contributor to academic journals.

SIDELIGHTS: Salvador Minuchin has been an instrumental pioneer in family therapy, a field of psychiatry that aims to treat a patient's disorder by engaging his or her entire family in the course of treatment. The doctor has accumulated several decades of experience serving on the staff of hospitals and clinics, and has authored volumes on the subject. Born into a large extended Jewish family in Argentina, Minuchin has lived and worked in the United States for much of his adult life. He has written that his experiences growing up in such a secure, domestic environment provided the basis for his strong commitment not to view an individual's problems as simply being rooted inside one's self. As a trained psychoanalyst, Minuchin broke new ground in his assertion that an individual's problems were more than the sum of his or her own inner psyche, and in his writings urged the profession to incorporate the patient's next immediate social structure, that of the family, when treating personality disorders.

Minuchin first attracted attention for his groundbreaking study of delinquent children in African-American and Puerto Rican families in the 1960s. The published results, titled Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment, was written with other researchers. The psychiatrist also made an impact in his field with the publication of Families and Family Therapy. In it, he offers theories and solutions to the problem of society's dysfunctional individuals and the means by which their families can take an active and effective role in their recovery. Minuchin postulates that families generally follow one of two problem patterns: they can be either too "enmeshed" with one another, or conversely, too "disengaged." The volume contains diagrams for working around such long-established habits, blueprints that are essentially Minuchin's maps offering ideas for redefining the boundaries between individuals. The therapist provides several case histories to illustrate his theories, the most striking of which is a treatment session for an anorexic teenager in which he urged the parents to use every possible means to get their daughter to eat. Their behavior and the patient's reactions illustrate Minuchin's theory that the illness is a struggle against unspoken boundaries between family members.

Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context, written with Bernice L. Rosman and Lester Baker, appeared in 1979, during a time when awareness of the eating disorder was rising. The anorexic patient often fits into a concisely defined personality profile, and Minuchin and his coauthors show that the families of anorexics also appear to follow certain patterns. The volume theorizes that anorexia is a symptom displayed by a "vulnerable" child, in a family that can be characterized as "psychosomatic," and the illness serves as a valve to deflect conflict between family members. Minuchin describes his successes in treating anorexic patients and their families through intervention therapy, which brings all members of the household together for structured role-playing, and provides transcripts of such meetings interspersed with his own commentary. In a Times Literary Supplement review, Maria Rhode described it as "a stimulating book," but remarked that the reader learns "very little that is new about anorexia."

Another volume of Minuchin's which attracted attention was Family Kaleidoscope, a work that took shape when he sojourned in London with his wife, a psychologist. During the stay, Minuchin sat in on British family court hearings involving parental custody or cases of child abuse. He writes at length about the obvious failing of the western judicial system to step in and provide assistance to suffering families who are already too impoverished, both in resources and in spirit, to heal themselves. The volume also utilizes Minuchin's previous experiences as a family therapist but incorporates a novel element. While discussing various facets of his work through accumulated case studies, Minuchin adds a fresh dimension—quoting from literary sources such as nineteenth-century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and twentieth-century Italian writer Luigi Pirandello. Minuchin attempts to involve the reader by posing questions, and the cases themselves often become reminiscent of a dramatic one-act play. Maya Pines, reviewing Family Kaleidoscope for the Washington Post Book World, noted Minuchin's "vivid reports of his visits" to the London courts as "the best pages in this strange potpourri of a book."

Family Healing: Tales of Hope and Renewal from Family Therapy, is a work that blends Minuchin's insights into the dynamics of the family with his own personal story. The book was written with Michael P. Nichols, a professor of psychiatry at Albany Medical College. The first section deals primarily with Minuchin's own life, reflecting back on his days as a radical Argentine student and his medical work in war-torn Israel, as well as his years as a pioneer in the field of family therapy. The rest of the work is an extensive collection of case histories, with Minuchin's corresponding commentary. The diverse stories illustrate certain themes and demonstrate the outcome of different therapeutic strategies—one case, for instance, is an example of the disastrous result of cross-generational alliances, as a marriage is exhausted by a young son's extreme misbehavior; Minuchin points out how the child's actions are an attempt to keep the parents together. New York Times Book Review critic Sophie Freud wrote that she was "dazzled by Dr. Minuchin's instant understanding of the deeper dynamics of every case and by his imaginative interventions."



Fishman, H. Charles, and Bernice L. Rosman, editors, Evolving Models for Family Change: A Volume in Honor of Salvador Minuchin, Guilford Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Minuchin, Salvador, Wai-Yung Lee, and George M. Simon, Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation, John Wiley and Sons (New York, NY), 1996.


New York Review of Books, February 20, 1975, pp. 8, 10-12.

New York Times Book Review, March 17, 1985, p. 27; March 21, 1993, Sophie Freud, review of Family Healing: Tales of Hope and Renewal from Family Therapy, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1992, p. 49.

Readings: Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health, June, 1994, review of Family Healing, p. 29; June, 1997, review of Mastering Family Therapy, p. 17.

SciTech Book News, June, 1997, review of Mastering Family Therapy, p. 67.

Times Literary Supplement, December 21, 1979, Maria Rhode, review of Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context.

Washington Post Book World, January 20, 1985, Maya Pines, review of Family Kaleidoscope, pp. 4-5.