Systemic Constellation Work; Philosophy, Process & Possibilities

Life’s problems may have origins in current or generational hidden loyalties. Family loyalties and the need to belong can often keep us in patterns that no longer serve ourselves, the greater good of our families or the more expanded systems to which we belong. Systemic Constellation Work, also known as Family Constellation Work, reveals unconscious or hidden patterns of loyalties and dynamics within a group (family or other system.) The dynamics may have direct influences on the present well-being of the system and individuals within that system. ”Acknowledging what is” provides an opportunity to shift dynamics and patterns that no longer serve. The work suggests that, harmful or stuck systemic entanglements are expressions of the system and/or the individuals within that system, trying to belong and survive. Systemic Constellation Work can help a person see the systemic relevance of life from a different perspective. The process allows deep, positive soul movement that often leads to the most creative next step-claiming power within the present and releasing into the freedom needed to create a full and authentic life. This work allows us to directly and collectively experience that we are all connected; we are not alone and we do not need to carry burdens that are not ours to carry. This brief intervention often provides resolution to problems that have, thus far, not found solutions. Individuals participating in the work find clarity in dealing with a wide variety of issues ranging from family issues, to health issues to business/career concerns.

The work acknowledges a “Family Soul.” Furthermore, it acknowledges that the “Family Soul” is held within the “Universal Soul.” It is the material of interconnectedness moving us toward finding purpose and assisting the evolutionary process of the Human Being in the unfolding of life. The family soul wants to survive. It wants to grow and heal. This work suggests that, in an effort to survive, family systems will often require the exclusion of a person or element that is simply too painful, dangerous or shameful to be acknowledged. The system works toward exclusion and protection for the purpose of survival of the system or group. Frequently, this exclusion results in patterns that eventually harm and result in familial entanglements that do not serve. Those who engage in this work have the opportunity to see “what is” and to find one’s place in moving toward the greater good and living into life’s fullest potential. All involved; the client/seeker, the facilitator of the experience, the representatives and the witnesses, have the opportunity to move into a space of safe wisdom as we simply “show up,” ask a question and allow the answers to unfold. We experience “what is” with dignity and respect, not being stripped or over exposed and with no shame or blame.

Systemic Constellation work, a relatively new discipline, found its rapid evolution through the work and extensive life experiences of Bert Hellinger. Hellinger, a German psychoanalyst, family therapist and former Catholic priest, was heavily influenced by his teen-age experiences in Nazi Germany. His life progressed in a profound study of religious, cultural, and psychoanalytic theories and practices. Based in the humble wisdom to trust in one’s own soul, this work is a unique integration of diverse elements, including Family Systems Theory and principles of Phenomenology. Having been practiced in Europe for over 25 years, this work is well known in Europe and has found rapid growth in the Asian nations. Even though there is less collective conscious acceptance of ancestral connection, the work is now taking root in American soil. Owing to its intuitive and phenomenological nature, Hellinger simply explains the phenomenon that occurs during this process as “a mystery.” It is precisely this mystery that separates the work from the therapeutic paradigms where treatment is assumed to be controlled and applied to specific symptomology.

This work can be experienced on a one-on-one basis or within a group setting. When done in groups, group members stand in as “representatives” in a manner that is similar to that of role-playing. However, the process of the Constellation creates an experience that is phenomenological in nature–meaning that a phenomenon, or happening, occurs. The representatives participating in the Constellation have access to knowledge, feelings and awareness that actually belong to the people or condition/situation they are representing; people and aspects they do not know and have little or no information about. The representatives are led, or “informed” by a field that German psychiatrist, Albrecht Mahr, has named, “The Knowing Field.” By opening to the Knowing Field, generated by authentic questions and intention, the individual representatives relate to the other members in the Constellation through verbal statements reporting physical sensations and emotions and through physical positioning within the system. As a result, the relational movement, structure, and “truth” of the system are depicted. ”The Knowing Field” offers safe gentle movement allowing the system to shift toward healing and resolution. All is attended with love and wisdom as the mystery, or “The Knowing Field,” …whatever name we use, responds to the client’s need for clarity and healing. We open to the reality of the Mystery and to the answers that are given to our questions.

The group members frequently represent the family members for the individual seeking clarity about a particular life issue. This model does not require an individual to do the work in the actual physical presence of family members. Representatives can also stand in for aspects in a person’s life besides specific family members. A representative might stand in for a particular emotion or physical condition that needs to be explored and “given voice.” Consequently, in addition to being highly productive in exploring and healing family issues, this process is profoundly effective in providing insights into how an individual’s physical disease process may be a reflection or accommodation of the dis-ease process inherent in the structure of the family system or provide insight into the relationship the individual has with the disease process. Constellations can be usefully applied to any life system or relationship, such as, one’s relationships in the work setting, with money, the physical body or decision making.

The information and perspectives that can be gleaned from this process are often pivotal and transformational in both the short and long term. The Constellation extends itself to incorporating dynamics that may still be active-energetically, emotionally and behaviorally-through generations of family history. With acknowledgment comes transformation. The Systemic Constellation process engages the individual at a depth beyond that of the ego, allowing space for release from blind loyalties and familial entanglements. The systemic approach sees each person as a member of his/her family, possibly carrying burdens of which s/he may or may not consciously be aware. The work offers an opportunity to become conscious of these burdens, thereby easing them on a subtle level. The effects of Constellations tend to continue over substantial periods, owing to their depth and subtlety. Many participants in this work report personal changes and synchronistic events that occur in their lives following their participation. The work suggests that, at their core, harmful or stuck systemic entanglements are expressions of “love misdirected,” but still love. The Constellation allows the harmful misdirection to find redirection and resolution. The Constellation allows the system to find redirection and resolution; thus, enabling life to move toward healing, wholeness, and peace; collectively and individually.


International Systemic Constellations Association

Acknowledging What Is: Conversations with Bert Hellinger, by Bert Hellinger and Gabriele ten Hovel

The Art and Practice of Family Constellations, by Bertold Ulsamer

Love’s Hidden Symmetry: What Makes Love Work in Relationships, by Bert Hellinger, with Gunthard Weber and Hunter Beaumont

Supporting Love: How Love Works in Couple Relationships; transcripts of Hellinger’s work, edited by Johannes Neuhauser

To the Heart of the Matter: Brief Therapies, by Bert Hellinger

Author: Carolyn Zahner, MSW, LISW
Copyright © 2008 Carolyn Zahner