The method of Family or Systemic Constellations was developed in Germany in 1980s. Its author, therapist Bert Hellinger, integrated in it various elements from several approaches. Originally, the Constellations method was mainly used in family therapy and with family systems. But later the method found use in other fields and areas, such as relationships, personal development, professional relationships and others.
Family Constellations are mostly used in counselling, personal development and therapy. Explaining the method can be somewhat difficult, as it is experience-based, so it's better to visit or attend a seminar and experience Constellations for yourself.
Defining Family Constellations
Family Constellations look at the whole, be it a family, a romantic relationship, or a working collective. The therapist approaches the system from a holistic perspective, transcending individual problems and dealing with the whole. This helps them to achieve a better understanding of the relations and connections within the family (or any other system).
Systemic Constellations enable changes in our mental image of the experienced reality. We all live according to images our minds generate that either encourge us or hold us back in our life and activities, that give us strength or weaken us. The Constellations method works with these images. Allowing more space for them enables their reconfiguration, and a greater harmony between them. This doesn't mean that whatever shows up in Family Constellations is better, more true or more real than the reality itself. What we get is a new, alternative image of our inner reality. If we accept it as potentially possible, our environment will respond to us in new ways and we are presented with a choice – to remain in the old system, or to broaden its original scope.
Family Constellations are about the connection with life and reality. Nothing that exists exists in isolation, everything is interconnected. Constellations afford us the sense of belonging. By going back to our roots, our ancestors and to the source of our strength, we return to ourselves and to the essence of who we are. It is a very enriching truth and experience.
As an experience-based method, Family Constellations are built around feelings and experiences. These usually occur during a seminar, in a group of people. The optimal number of participants is 15, but there are smaller or bigger groups, too. Or you can create individual constellations where the client shifts from one role to another. It is also possible to work with dolls or figures.
Constellation therapy begins with the client introducing their situation or problem. Several participants are then chosen to stand in the Constellation as representatives of the important elements in the given system. These are usually suggested by the person who leads the group, the so-called facilitator.
To give a specific example: If the system we seek to represent within a Constellation is a family, the client will choose representatives to stand in as his parents, siblings, grandparents, and themselves. Should one of the representatives feel uncomfortable with the role given to them, they may refuse to play it. Chosen representatives are then arranged in the space by the seeker (client) into a cofiguration that best represents the current situation in the system as the seeker perceives it. It is best to lead the representatives using both your hands, positioning them in their intended place as comfortably and as accurately as possible.
Once the Constellation is set, the client sits down to observe the scene, while the facilitator asks the representatives questions, moves them aroound or gives them freedom of movement. The facilitator might inquire or use other methods; his or her aim is to navigate the whole system towards change, greater harmony, and catharsis. At the end of the Family Constellation the facilitator sometimes invites the seeker to replace their own representative in the Constellation and briefly experience the reconfigured system for themselves.
After the Constellation is resolved, all participants leave their roles. This is done either by a long step backwards or by shaking and „cleansing“ the energetic body. Knowingly abandoning the assigned roles is an essential part of the whole Constellation ritual.
Effects of Family Constellations
In a Constellation the client is able to understand the connections on several levels of perception and understanding. On the rational-informational level, the seeker realizes what has happened or is still happening in the system, how are the peopple in the system doing or who is missing from it. This level can be very beneficial for organizations, companies and professional collectives. Another level that the Constellations affect is the experience-emotional one. By seeing and accepting the reality for what it is we gain sufficient strength to continue on our journey and get rid of illuions, which, in turn, allows us to evolve and grow.
We experience a new, positive alternative to our mental image of reality. We observe the old system change and reconfigure itself, and accept the image of the Constellation. We discover the new, the unexpected, and the possible.
It isn't unusual for a resolved Constellation to positively affect other members of the system who were not present at the ritual or didn't even know about it. This effect has not been recognized scientifically and might be at the core of much misunderstanding and sceptical attitude towards the method, but it is recognized by shamans and healers, who view it as the influence of a parallel world.
Once we perceive reality differently, in a broader context and with a keener insight, then even the problem we have up until now viewed as a substantial burden, can easily vanish.
What kind of problems do Constellations typically solve?
- family problems - relationship problems
- inability to break free of family ties
- taking over the destinies of other family members
- problems in your romantic relationship
- inability to find a partner
- ending up with the same type of partner, over and over
- workplace trouble – trouble with colleagues
- always being the one to get picked last
- impulsive behaviour
- interpersonal conflicts
- conflicts with superiors
- financial problems (Constellation of hidden beliefs about finances)
- chronical health problems (Constellation of symptoms)
The pitfalls of Family Constellations
Family Constellations are not a functional substitute for qualified medical help or psychotherapy. They are not meant for diagnosing or treating illnesses in the same way as classical medicine. They aren't suitble for use in such cases as acute mental crises or traumas (e.g. a recent break-up, the death of a loved one, or infidelity). If the client is undergoing any kind of therapy, it is necessary to inform their therapist if they intend to attend a seminar. It is equally important to inform the facilitator about any ongoing treatment and whatever problems that necessitated it.
Heightened caution is in order if there have been any serious traumas in the client's past (e.g. sexual violence, molestation, health related traumas or war traumas, etc.). One should be also careful if there have been mental disorders among the client's closest family members. Whatever psychotic manifestations (hallucinations, hearing voices, panic attacks, paranoia, extreme variations and swings of mood) have to be discussed with the client's therapist. Family Constellations are not suitable for drug addicts, but they can be undertaken if the therapy has already begun. It is, however, recommended that a former addict only goes through a seminar after six months of complete abstinence.
A particular caution is necessary in cases that involve such complicating factors as cardio-vascular diseases, pregnancy, epilepsy, or general weakening of the body, especially after a serious illness or surgery.
Occasional problems that appear during and after Family Constellations
In many cases, undertaking a seminar leads to the solution of the problem, while also being a very effective technique on the path towards personal growth. It leads to a shift in perspective and enables us to view old patterns differently, and to newly understand and reevaluate the current ones. If this approach is new and unfamiliar to us, our rational and analytical understanding of the wrold might be thrown into a brief state of confusion.
In our reality we sometimes arrive at pieces of knowledge we may not be able to properly place at first. These attempts at reevaluation can provoke our psychosomatic system and trigger fatigue, headache, irritability, emotional lability or inhibition. This may lead to a temporary deterioration of our mental state. During or even after a seminar one might sometimes experience sense of futility, disorientation or uneasiness. Very rarely there are cases when our organism claims whatever time is required to process the new events and thoughts by falling ill or becoming otherwise indisposed. But these signs can't be considered negative, on the contrary. They signal that the Family Constellations have had some effect and the reconfiguration of negative patterns has begun.
Feelings of staying in the role after Constellation
You were assigned a role during a seminar and now you feel like you're not quite able to step out of it? Does it feel like the role has stuck to you? People often describe these feelings as „not feeling quite themselves“,“feeling like some of the role has stayed behind“ and so on. If you experience trouble stepping out of the role, do some other, preferably physical activity – go for a walk, do some exercise or house chores... Cold shower can also help. If those feelings still don't go away, contact your facilitator. They should be able to help you leave the role and cleanse your thoughts through a repeated or more intense ritual.
The aim of Family Constellations
The goal of this method is not to change the unchangeable, or to return into the past and try to rewrite it.The aim is to discover and seize one's own strength, to discover oneself, and find the way to deep, authentic feelings and sensations. This primary energy and primary feelings are the legacy of our ancestors and have incredible power. If we can't exist in harmony with this source, we lose contact with it over time and find ourselves outside the river of life, disconnected from our own life energy.
Obviously, it is necessary to also include aftercare in Family Cobstellations seminars.