Systemic Constellation Work is a community healing therapy, pioneered by German psychotherapist and pastor Bert Hellinger (1925 -). He developed it initially to help victims, perpetrators and their descendants heal from World War II and Holocaust trauma.
Recent research shows responses to specific traumas are inherited genetically, not just emotionally or psychologically. Neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda, PhD and others discovered that a mom or dad who survived 9/11 or the Holocaust and underwent trauma related gene changes, then passed on those changes to the children and even the grandchildren.
Yehuda’s findings give support to Hellinger’s work. If our genes can change coding based on traumatic events in our lives, perhaps we can also change them back with immersive positive experiences.
One powerful way to create such immersive positive experiences is with constellations. In my own work and observing others, I’ve seen people blossom, becoming confident and open-hearted. New insights and the love that comes with healing completion often arise for the client and also the representatives and witnesses. A shared feeling of freshness and gratitude may fill the room. To me it is rather miraculous, how informative and loving the outcomes can be.
Hellinger taught us that clients would often be entangled in the emotions of a parent or grandparent. For example, if he saw a family member had been excluded, he would ask group members to represent the client’s family members and work with them to restore a fresh and loving order. After many years working exclusively on family healing, constellations expanded to include nature, social, political and world-level issues.
On a family level, which is where Systemic Constellations started, we assume the deep and loving support of the ancestors; that there are family souls as well as individual souls; that everyone in the family belongs; that grandparents give to parents, parents give to children; and that within each generation there is reciprocity among members. These familial orders of love, as Hellinger called them, extend in appropriate forms to organizations, cultures and the natural world.
I offer family, nature and cultural healing constellations (see Schedule for Constellation Circle dates and times) and can also help you privately in a one-on-one session. Please check the FAQ below for commonly asked questions and feel free to email or call me to learn more.
To become a constellations facilitator I studied under Mike Berold and Francesca Mason Boring and benefitted from sitting in circle with Lisa Iversen, Diana Claire Douglas and my peer circle practice group. I am a registered counsellor in BC and a full member of the Canadian Clinical Hypnosis Society (BC Div). My background for this particular offering includes forty years of mind-body field awareness training in a variety of modalities: MA in Applied Behavioral Science; family systems therapy, gestalt therapy and dream work; Diamond Approach to maturation and realization; Generative Trance with Stephen Gilligan; Aikido, the martial art dedicated to world peace; and Certificate in Conflict Resolution JIBC.
As an ongoing practice, I’ve set my own constellations both for family healing and for Neutron Trail (cultural-level) healing. The work has been enormously beneficial to me. With gratitude, to my ancestors and teachers seen and unseen.
Systemic Constellations FAQ
How do I arrange to do a constellation with you?
I’d be happy to talk with you about setting a constellation in one of my groups or privately in counselling. Please phone or email me.
What if I just want to watch but not participate?That’s totally fine. In Constellations, the observers are important too as they help create a safe space for the client and the representatives. You are always welcome to sit in the outer circle, simply observing, without representing or setting a constellation.
What about confidentiality in an open group?
At the start of each group, I gain the consent of all present to a commitment of confidentiality. That is, we all agree to keep private all personal information shared in the constellation circle. You may also decide to do a constellation with me privately in counselling. Please phone or email me to learn more.
Is Constellation Work the same as psychodrama?
No, Constellation Work is not the same as psychodrama. While both modalities provide for trained facilitators and both use the idea of representatives, in Systemic Constellations we do not use the techniques of psychodrama, play act nor try to create a particular plot-line. Instead each representative remains true to what they are actually feeling and perceiving in the moment.
In Constellations there is an emphasis on honoring the support of our ancestors and teachers, creating ritual space, the gift economy of giving and receiving in service and a general caution not to analyze during or after a constellation.
How long does it take to have an effect?In a constellation we enter a ritual space that constellation facilitator and author Daan van Kampenhout, described as outside of our normal sense of linear time. Upon completion of the constellation, we typically advise the client to refrain from analyzing, just as one would not pick at a scab, but rather allow the transformations of healing to take place in their own way. In my experience, some effects of a constellation are immediate. Yet there are many layers and dimensions to our lives. Do give your constellation freedom to work its magic in its own time, whether that be weeks, months or years, depending on the issue and depth of work. And trust in the power of silence.
What is the history of Systemic Constellation Work?
Bert Hellinger (1925 – ), the founder of Systemic Constellation Work, became a priest in his native Germany at 20 years old and about 10 years later went to South Africa as a missionary. He taught seminary among the Zulu for 16 years, becoming fluent in their language. His pastoral training had opened him to a phenomenological approach to his work, seeing what is, as cleanly as possible. What Hellinger learned and experienced among the Zulu seems to have influenced him profoundly.
The Zulu have a deep respect for ancestors who are seen as guides to the living and intermediaries with God. Traditionally the Zulu throw bones, in ways remarkably similar to setting constellations, and seek out excluded elements as keys to healing individually and collectively.
After his time with the Zulu, Hellinger returned to Germany and studied to become a psychotherapist. Out of his training and life experience, Hellinger identified cross-cultural, universal human dynamics we all share. He originated Family Constellation work, a modality practiced primarily in a group setting, as a way to aid individual and inter-generational healing — starting with German Jewish victims, Nazi perpetrators and their descendants.
He began publishing in 1993 and has written many books on Constellations. Facilitators who studied directly with Hellinger further developed the work, as have their students, continuing to today. The modality started with families and grew to include any human and/or natural system, coming to be called Systemic Constellation Work.
Systemic Constellation Work remains controversial because it directly challenges traditional Western beliefs and norms. Yet it has spread internationally and is being used in a wide array of settings and contexts, as part of a multi–disciplinary approach to problem solving, healing and social evolution.
It seems many of the universal family dynamics Hellinger originally identified can come to play in any human system and even in nature. Constellations can be set for systems and nested systems (systems within systems) including familial, organizational, societal and with nature. The International Centre for Wholistic Law uses Constellation Work as part of their approach to environmental and other legal disputes. Constellations have been used to envision peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and in other traumatized nations, including Rwanda and South Africa.
What happens in a constellation and how long does it take?
Typically, the facilitator starts by inquiring into the client’s issue and intention for healing and then suggests which people or aspects to be represented (e.g. mother, father, daughter, son or boss, manager, project manager, customers or aspects in Nature, etc). The client may choose the representatives or they may volunteer depending on the format.
For example, with a family issue, the facilitator might ask the client to choose representatives from the group to be father, mother, client, brother and sister. For a workplace constellation there could be representatives for the boss, a manager, the client and a co-worker. Nature Constellations are even more open-ended as are constellations dedicated to cultural healing.
The representatives form a group, standing in the centre of the space. This initial constellation typically shows the stuck or unresolved dynamics. For example, the representatives may look away from each other. The representatives enter an inquiry together in the spirit of restoring dignity and respect.
The facilitator engages with the representatives and facilitates the unfolding movement toward a more loving order, while the client watches from the side. The rest of the participants hold space for the client and for the developing constellation, sitting quietly and attentively.
By asking each representative what they are noticing, the facilitator helps to reveal blockages or old wounds that need attention as well as opening dialogue between representatives — all in service of restoring love and right relationship.
There are a wide variety of formats available in constellations including rituals that focus on the group without a specific person as client. Usually a constellation lasts 20-45 minutes, but a constellation might take only few minutes or up to an hour or more depending on the size, scope and group availability for a particular topic or theme.
By engaging in Systemic Constellations, whether group members know each other or not, we find avenues to dream together productively, with heart and meaning. The open format, dedicated to what is actually true for each person, allows for a variety of experiences coming out of one constellation. Constellations can be intense with emotions flowing and yet from all I’ve experienced, my heart opens and I feel everyone else’s heart opening too. Shared gratitude is a common result.
Can you explain more about how constellations work and being a representative?
Often newcomers to Systemic Constellations are surprised that it doesn’t matter whether or not the representatives know anything consciously about the family member or aspect they are representing. They wonder, “How can I be truly helpful?”
No one knows for sure why it works, but we have some pretty strong evidence, based on decades of observation that constellations do work and that representatives naturally, without special training, can be extraordinarily helpful.
For starters, we acknowledge our common experience being family members: grandparents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, brothers and sisters (that we usually take for granted). Constellations assumes: we are born, live and die in a field of shared awareness, with all who have come before and those yet to be born. In Constellations, I’ve heard it called the Knowing Field.
Biologist, author and speaker Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is one of many experts who theorize a field of awareness and wisdom, he calls a morphic (responsive, dynamic and coherent) field, within which we all share, knowingly or unknowingly. According to Sheldrake, Constellation Work takes advantage of the morphic quality of awareness that many indigenous and wisdom traditions have recognized for millennia. By genuinely reconnecting to this field of knowledge, we naturally restore inherent love, dignity and respect between parties.
Sheldrake finds a metaphor for the morphic (Knowing) field in magnetic fields, which invisibly bring order to magnetic particles. Sheldrake asks us to notice the unexplained phenomena of birds flying in flocks and fishes swimming in schools as hints of the workings of this morphic field on us humans.
Being a representative is an opportunity to give in service of restoring love and dignity to a client’s issue. We ask representatives to simply notice and report, without analysis, their inner experience and responses to the others in the constellation, with the guidance of the facilitator.
The representatives share body responses, emotions and thoughts, and in so doing uncover clues and patterns, often remarkably relevant to the client’s dilemma. They start by standing in whatever position the client put them in. But during the course of the constellation their stances change and transform, and so they move to new positions and new relationships with each other.
During normal day-to-day activities we may not pay much attention to deeper levels of awareness and interconnection. In Systemic Constellation Work, with the help of the facilitator, the group willingly and consciously enters a more caring space. Here, we put value and attention to our human commonalities and together find healing in community.
Where can I learn more about Systemic Constellation Work?In Additional Resources on my website you’ll find some good books to start with. They’re in the section titled, “Family, Nature & Systemic Constellations”, towards the bottom of the page.