Family Constellations: Explore and Transform Unconscious Family Dynamics

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An Experiential Methodology

By being born into our family, we not only inherit genes and physical traits, but also belief systems, behaviour patterns, thoughts and conscious and unconscious dynamics that affect us in our daily lives. Family Constellations are fascinating experiential therapeutic interventions that bring these dynamics to light, and provide a deep insight into the underlying causes of one’s life issues. Many times, the root causes are not what we think.

Each person is an individual as well as a product of his/her family, environment, culture, and other group systems. Recurring emotional patterns and issues such as depression, anger, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, addictions, feeling like a victim, feeling like you do not belong, not finding a partner, difficulties in relationships, financial limitations, etc., are often a result of unresolved events from previous generations.

In the Western culture, it is common to blame our parents, even removing ourselves from our roots. This can result in a disconnection from life and the feeling of not having the strength to make one’s dreams and higher purpose happen.  Family constellations do not blame others for the situation we are in, but rather allow us to see an objective perspective of our family system and ourselves in it. With a new awareness and acknowledgement of what is, through the eyes of love and without judgement, it is possible for a healing resolution to take place.

The founder of Family Constellations is Bert Hellinger, a German born psychotherapist who spent 16 years as a missionary living in South Africa with the Zulus. His relationship with the Zulus had a deep impact on Hellinger, who was fluent in the Zulu language and participated in their cultural practices and rituals. Rather than converting them to Christianity, he incorporated their views on the interrelation between the living family members and their dead ancestors. From the Zulus, he learned the fundamental need for humans to align themselves with the forces of nature and the importance of gaining healing and strength from one’s ancestors.

Hellinger left the priesthood when, during a conference, the lecturer asked him: “What’s more important to you, your ideals, or people? Which would you sacrifice for the other?” His answer changed the course of his life and career. He returned to Europe and trained in traditional psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, family systems therapy, psychodrama, phenomenology, NLP, Milton Erickson’s hypnotherapy and integrated elements of these into Family Constellations.

The result is a dynamic methodology which is unique in that: a) it is experiential; b) the client hardly speaks; c) its premise is that many of our issues are related to family patterns; d) it deals with the energetic field or family soul, the family blueprint which largely affects family members; e) it allows you to feel what it is like to be in another person’s shoes; g) it attempts to release the unconscious trans-generational dynamics embedded within the family system.

Bert Hellinger has been nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Although his methodology is widely practised around the world, it is just beginning to emerge in Canada. Although he is honoured as the founder of this work, many facilitators integrate constellation insights into their current practices and others have evolved the constellation process, such as Carola Castillo, who has expanded this work to the collective and the past life realm.


Constellations can be done in group workshops (including the client, the facilitator and a group of people) or individual sessions (the client and the facilitator). In group constellations, the client is the person who wants to work on an issue. In many cases, he/she has tried to work on the presenting problem before and has been unable to create lasting change.

The group members (who do not know the client or his/her family) sit in a circle and the client wishing to work sits to the right of the facilitator. The facilitator then asks the client what he/she would like to work on, which may or may not seem to be related to his/her family. After the issue is defined, he/she asks factual questions abut the family history without getting into the client’s perceived story or judgement. He/she is looking for traumatic events from the past that may systemically be affecting the client today. Such events include premature deaths, miscarried or aborted children, murders, suicide, casualties of war, members that were not accepted by the family because of a difficult fate or because they lived a lifestyle that was frowned upon, members who benefited from someone’s loss, babies given for adoption, serious accidents, an early separation from the mother, having roots in different countries etc.

Once the issue is clear and the facilitator has enough information to explore the dynamics, the constellator asks the client to instinctively pick different members of the group to represent his/her family members, or the presenting issue, and position them in the room according to what feels right for him/her at the moment. The client intuitively goes to the people he/she is most attracted to in order to represent his/her family members one by one, and respectfully asks them if they would like to be a representative. The group member picked by the client can choose to represent and be in the service of the client and his family or decline and participate by being a mindful observer. The client also chooses a representative to stand-in for him/herself.

After the representatives for family members, the client and/or the issue have been set up in the room, the client sits down and observes, taking in what unfolds before him/her. By the mere fact of setting up the constellation, the energetic field of the family, a collective consciousness known as the “knowing field” is activated, and representatives tap into feelings, sensations, body postures or position themselves with relation to one another in a way that becomes useful information for the constellator to explore what is “out of order”. There is a certain mystery around how this phenomenon takes place and Hellinger himself has stated that he does not know how it happens. It is often compared to Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s notion of the morphogenetic field, which refers to an energy field which connects us and has memory and influence.

At this point, it is the role of the constellator to assess the situation and explore to uncover the hidden dynamics and look for a possible resolution to the issue. The facilitator may also ask representatives to repeat certain healing sentences, known as the “language of the soul” to reveal the truth presented, restore and strengthen relationships within the system. Members that were once excluded are honoured and love flows freely once more through the family system.

A resolution has been reached when most of the representatives in the constellation visibly feel better or calmer. At this point, the client may be asked to take his/her place in the constellation, instead of the representative for the final stage of the constellation. The client then feels what it is like to stand in the new place and integrate the new feelings into their body, mind and soul of this new image of his/her family. Often, this work produces a profound transformation, which allows the client to see his/her life from a different perspective and be free of his/her initial block.

Representatives or the people in the group observing the constellation also receive shifts and insights into their own family systems as well. It is not a coincidence to be asked to be a representative for someone’s constellation or to be watching one unfold.

Private constellations are equally powerful for people who prefer not to work in a group setting. The facilitator and client enter into a sacred space where the family system is honoured and acknowledged. Instead of setting up people as representatives, the constellator uses footsteps, figurines, mats or any other objects to represent the family members or issue to be addressed. Using footsteps is a very powerful way for the client to literally “step into” other family member’s shoes and feel what it is like to be the other person. After a private constellation, the client often perceives his family and situation very differently, feeling deep compassion for his family members and harmony with life.

Family constellations are a powerful way to transform what is blocking you from living the full life you are meant to live. It is not easy to picture how they work or imagine the healing power they transmit until you experience one. Those who have done family constellations develop more compassion for themselves and others because they see firsthand the impact family history has had on their behaviour. Many feel a powerful transformation from their constellation work.

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