Understanding Family Constellations

Family Constellations (FC) is a theraputic process that allows individuals to heal from personal challenges that originate in their past, in their family, and most notably, in their family's history. FC is largely different from most coaching or talk therapy approaches and is remarkable for its efficiency in getting to the root of a person's issue.

Family Constellations uncover how a person's struggles, which may have previously felt like a personal issue or flaw, are not so simple. Instead, challenges like anxiety, depression, trauma, illness and more are often revealed to be logical outcomes from not only a person's upbringing, but the events and circumstances surrounding their parents' upbringing, their grandparents' upbringing, or their larger family tree.

FC shines a spotlight on the unconscious ways people carry and perpetuate the burdens of their family of origin. When these unconscious loyalties to the past are made conscious, the client is given a remarkable opportunity to break the cycle, heal, and create new ways of being that align more closely with their values.

What Happens In A Family Constellations Session?

A Family Constellations session begins with a brief conversation between the client and the facilitator. During the conversation, the facilitator seeks to understand the client's intention for the session. For example, if a client is experiencing anxiety and wants to be free of it, the facilitator may ask "What situations trigger your anxiety?" Or "When did the anxiety start?" After getting a picture of how the issue expresses itself in the client's life the facilitator moves on to ask questions that uncover the role these dynamics play in their larger family system.

Once the facilitator has gathered enough information to begin, the facilitator asks the client to choose representatives for the family members or entities that are relevant to the situation. In a group workshop, this means the client picks people from the group to stand and represent different members of their family. Although the other workshop attendees are often strangers, they can be chosen by the client to stand and temporarily represent their mother, father, sibling, grandparent, significant other, boss at work or the client themselves.

What develops is a 3D representation of the client's view of their family, place of work, or other system they are examining. From the start, externalizing what was previously an internal image begins to draw out insights. Why did the client place their mother so far from their father? Why does the client's representative look like they're in a stand-off with their sibling?

Inevitably, new stories emerge that the client may not have realized were relevant to their intention for the session. As the Constellation progresses, new information continues to come to light while the facilitator guides the representatives and brings in new representatives to test different areas of the client's system. The session typically culminates by finding the configuration that restores order, resources, love, strength and/or gratitude within the client. In fact, it's common for the client to report feeling these new sensations in their body as the session reaches completion.

How Can A Constellation Help Me?

The effect a person's relationship to their family and their upbringing has on their present day life cannot be understated. When a person feels they didn't receive enough support, attention or love as a child, this can seep into every area of their adult life. Therefore, when a Constellation helps shift the person's relationship to their past or their family, the effects on their present day life can be astounding.

After a Family Constellation, the steady unfolding of the process in the client's life is often referred to as the 'integration period.' In the days, weeks and months after the session, space opens up within the client without any conscious effort on behalf of the client.

The way the client sees themselves, their sense of purpose, their parents, their significant other or their children begins to shift over time. During this integration period, the client can start to witness the benefits of the Constellation beyond the new insights they received during the session. In the weeks after the session, the client can see reductions in their anxiety or depression, improved communication with family, a sense of clarity in their work or with their goals in life, and countless other forms of reconciliation and resolution depending on the intention they brought to the session.

What's also extraordinary is the symbiotic relationship family members have between each other. As integration continues, clients sometimes report how the family members represented in the Constellation session seem to be subtly changing as well.

Although it's not fully understood, it seems that there's a way in which families are so deeply connected that when one family member steps into a new position within the family, the entire family begins to shift to meet them. The focus of a Constellation is to provide the client with the resources they need to create the change they want in their life. However, the symbiotic shifts within other family members can be an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can Family Constellations be done 1-on-1? I thought it was a group therapy.

Yes, Family Constellations is just as effective 1:1 as it is in groups. The history of the approach is that the pioneering psychologist behind it, Bert Hellinger, only performed Family Constellations in group settings. This resulted in FC earning a reputation as being a group therapy in the 80s and 90s. However, over time it's been developed and adapted to be equally as effective in private practice. Today, it's practiced by thousands of therapists, coaches and healers in 1:1 settings with successful outcomes.

Does Family Constellations have anything to do with Astronomy or Astrology?

No. The term 'constellation' comes from the way sessions look from a distance. Representatives for family members are placed in the room to help understand how they stand in relationship to the struggles of the client. As the session develops, the 3D representation of the family tends to resemble a map or 'constellation.'

Is this similar to IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy?

Generally speaking, no. The lineage of Family Constellations and the principles behind it are very different from IFS. Internal Family Systems often focuses on the internal environment of the client by addressing voices of judgement or cynicism they hear in their head. By contrast, a facilitator of Family Constellations strives to reconnect people with the origin of these voices in their family tree. For example, a FC facilitator may ask, "Who in your family would say that?" Family Constellations was created in the 1980s and is widely known and practiced in Europe and South America. In the past 15 years it has gained significant notoriety in North America.