Q: What is a Family or Systemic Constellation?
A: The Family and Systemic Constellation tool is a systemic approach to healing that uncovers and restructures unconscious family blueprints. It is a respectful, yet powerful, way of gently bringing to light the hidden workings of a family system. In doing so, it is possible to find ways to resolve entanglements and become free from restrictive family ties.
There is a family conscience whose function is to ensure that everyone in the family has equal right to membership. It operates beneath the conscious level; we don’t feel it like we do personal conscience. If someone is cast out of the system, or is unacknowledged in some way, someone else (often in a later generation) will feel systemic pressure to represent the excluded person. Both living and dead members have their own rightful position in the family soul.
Family members don’t usually make an intentional effort to exclude someone; the exclusion usually happens because of grief, guilt, and/or tragic circumstance. Family members who are considered “black sheep” are often in resonance with ancestors who have been excluded or unacknowledged. Confusion results regarding who belongs in which place in the family; this is called an “entanglement” in the constellation field.
A: A sacred space is created where deep (often unspoken) truths about our families are acknowledged and honored.
Participants describe an issue or problem they want to solve along with some factual information about their family. A simple description of what they know about the family (even if that is not much) and what they experience as the problem is enough information. They choose workshop participants to represent themselves and family members, living or dead, and physically place the chosen representatives in relationship to each other according to their heartfelt inner image of their family system. This creates an energy field in which the representatives experience physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts related to the family member they represent.
Constellations look like a living tree or genogram. The experience is not role-playing. Representatives simply report what they experience. We carry our families with us like a hologram. In the workshops, we externalize an aspect of the hologram and, for a brief moment, have a glimpse into deeply unconscious patterns in the system.
The workshop leader facilitates an unfolding process where painful losses, information treated as family secrets, and previously unseen connections are revealed and honored. Once the unconscious system is revealed, it can be restructured into a more balanced system where love and energy flow freely as experienced by the people representing family members. Participants leave with a more nourishing family picture that inspires freedom, clarity, and love.
Q: Who is Bert Hellinger?
A: Bert Hellinger is a German psychotherapist now in his eighties. Hellinger is credited with developing the phrase, “Family Constellations”. His rich and varied life journey includes his experiences as a young man in Germany during World War II, his many years as a Catholic priest, and living in African Zulu country for 16 years. More about Hellinger and his place in the Systemic Constellation field is available at www.hellinger.com and www.icsa-network.org.
Q: What does the term “orders of love” mean?
A: Orders of love are hidden (unconscious) natural laws that shape and constrain the behavior of human relationship systems. The phrase was first used by Bert Hellinger.
Examples of orders are:
- Every member has a rightful place of belonging that must be respected and honored
- Hierarchy in the family system exists according to time
- Parents give and children take
Q: Is there any scientific evidence for this approach?
A: The most well known scientist whose ideas help our left brains understand the Systemic Constellation phenomenology and its relevance is Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake is one of today’s most innovative biologists, best known for his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance. He proposes that memory is inherent in nature and that species have ways of passing information on from one generation to the next through morphic resonance (www.sheldrake.org).
Q: How is it different from counseling or therapy?
A: The work reveals the wisdom and truths of our ancestry that is held in the physical body. Its focus is on solutions–not problems–even when our rational minds may not fully understand either the problem or solution. Going with the wisdom of the soul, as it is carried in the body, seems to lead people to lasting solutions. The experience allows the more complete picture of one’s family from the constellation to move in one’s soul and life, rather than analyzing or problem solving.
This work is not a replacement for psychotherapy. For some, an individual counseling relationship can be a place to support integration of family material from the workshop. For others, the experience stands best alone. The approach also appeals to some who might not be drawn to traditional therapy.
A: The Systemic Constellations field is growing and evolving. Facilitators are from a variety of cultures and disciplines, including (but not limited to) backgrounds in indigenous, western, and natural medicine; shamanism; psychotherapy; education; organizational consultation; and the arts.
While the principles of the work are universal and the phenomenon is consistent, the various applications of the Systemic Constellation approach and diverse backgrounds of facilitators reveal that its wisdom flows through each facilitator in unique ways. The variation in how facilitators approach this work and integrate it into their existing knowledge base can be compared to the way two musicians create very different musical experiences based upon the same written piece of music.
There is not an established criteria within the Constellation community regarding facilitator or trainer certification. The way in which each facilitator has learned and approaches the craft of facilitating constellations varies from person to person. The same is true for those who offer training programs for learning how to facilitate or integrate constellation wisdom into their lives or practices.
Q: How can I find a Constellation practitioner?
A: The most practical way of finding practitioners is through the Internet. People also find ways to experience this work through word of mouth networks. The work has spread across the globe through this organic web of human relationships.
The International Systemic Constellations Association (ISCA) has created a listing on its website (www.icsa-network.org) of people defining themselves as constellation facilitators. The ISCA does not perform any vetting functions regarding the information members provide about themselves, and is therefore unable to provide assurance as to competence. ISCA encourages people looking for a practitioner to seek recommendations regarding the quality of the facilitators and to trust their own best judgment.
Q: Is there anything I need to know before doing Constellation work?
A: Most people describe some level of surprise, if not amazement, after their first experience with Constellations. The information about our families that is held in our bodies, and how deeply this information influences our lives, is quite indescribable.
A participant once commented, “One of the things that leaps out at me about this work is that our bodies are receptors, wired to receive information and communication.” Several years ago I began referring to Systemic Constellations as The Fall of the Left Brain.
Most seasoned facilitators recommend taking the depth of the work into consideration when deciding to pursue this healing approach. Allowing time for oneself to rest and absorb the experience after a workshop or individual session is good self-care.
Body centered, experiential healing approaches such as this one can help us restore balance of our spirits, bodies, and minds. The healing images from a workshop or session continue to unfold in a person’s soul and larger family system in the months and years after a Constellation experience.