Three years ago, when my family unexpectedly disintegrated, the relationships between the members of the existing fragment of the family became very strained. As a single mother of two young adults, understanding the inner working of their minds became a tumultuous task. At an age when they were on the threshold of adulthood, but still innocent at heart, grappling with such a situation became a painful and energy consuming task for them. They got pulled between their parents and I had no clue how they felt and what they wanted from me.
Therapy did help me resolve my personal battle but resolving the issues with children seemed to be an impossible task—until I attended my first Family Constellations session. The session shed light on the patterns in the family I was married into, which spanned over two generations. It also helped me understand my children and the family dynamics. My older child, who had chosen to stay with his father in another city, returned home. After struggling with depression for almost a year, he finally felt motivated and started taking positive steps to structure his life.
What is Family Constellation?
Family Constellation is a therapeutic method that originated from the methodology of systemic therapy. It looks at life as a whole rather than focussing on incidents in isolation, thereby giving an overview to family situations. This approach helps to gain insights into the deeper reasons for the issues that are addressed during the sessions such as why certain people are denied a place, or not spoken of; and why behavioural patterns persist, often unconsciously, from one generation to the next.
Bert Hellinger, the German psychotherapist who created both the Family Constellation and the Systemic Constellation methods of healing, calls this larger field the “Family Soul”. It serves as the basis for exploring and understanding our relationships as well as eventually designing solutions for unresolved issues.
Family Constellation looks at life as a whole rather than focussing on incidents in isolation, thereby giving an overview to family situations
The levels of healing in Family Constellation
In Hellinger’s words, Family Constellation is the external movement of a cosmic event, and is neither a craft nor a method. We can assume that everything that happens and has shown itself in a Constellation is always for the good of the seeker, even if the seeker has initially started with seeking resolution for a seemingly different issue. Just as there are no two identical people, there are no two identical Constellations—be it related to enterprises, relations, professional or private life, a disease, career choice or any other issue.
According to a leading practitioner of the methodology in Mumbai, Family Constellation has to be experienced to be understood, as it is a multidimensional therapy that works across generations and people. It pinpoints the core issue among the mesh of things happening in a person’s life. Every Constellation works for all three—the client, the other participants in the group and the facilitator, though the focus of the therapy is the client who brings up the issue. She adds that the sessions are not interpreted in depth, as it is best to leave it to the client to experience how the results of the therapy unfold in real life.
She further discusses a case where one of her clients ate compulsively to avoid getting into a relationship, because she had taken on the role of the ‘man’ in the house after her father’s death. The Constellation also revealed that the client used food to fill the void created by the lack of her mother’s love, which in turn was also the case with the mother herself. The Constellation re-established the order in the family and the client opened herself to love, thereby improving the relationship between the client and her mother drastically.
The biggest advantage of choosing Family Constellation as a modality for healing is that you don’t need the other person or people related to your issue to be present during the session. Most people resolve their issue in just a few sessions. Sometimes even one session is enough and hence it’s quick and very cost-effective. The resolution creates a ripple effect and thus brings about considerable shifts even in the other people related to one’s issue, given the fact that they do not actively participate in the process.
Most people resolve their issue in just a few sessions. Sometimes even one session is enough and hence it’s quick and very cost-effective
This therapy can be used in combination with counselling, though it is also extremely effective even if used as the only method. Family Constellation can help find solutions in conflicts or fateful events in relationships and a family, in cases where parents who separate want to make the right decisions for their children, when historical events and calamities have had an impact on a family, when someone is in a difficult relationship and wants to work at it or end it, and when someone is faced with difficulties in their work environment. In short, anyone who wishes to resolve his internal or external conflicts can greatly benefit from this therapeutic modality.
Family Constellation: A therapist’s perspective
How and where does one attend a session?
A family constellation usually takes place in a one- or two-day workshop, with a group of people all undergoing the same process, or also as a private session. In a group workshop, the client chooses other participants to represent the people involved in his issue. Participants take turns to represent people involved in each other’s issues. The group is contracted to confidentiality and respect for all members.
Deeper issues may require more constellation, be it in group workshops or private sessions. Though a family constellation seems to be similar to a Psychodrama, it is completely different as it does not look at particular events in the client’s life to replay them; it simply looks at the energy in each of all the participating representatives with no sense of drama and very little information of the issue or the lives of the people concerned. In a session, the person with the issue seldom participates, so that he can observe the process, but more so because his involvement could influence the true flow of the Constellation.
So if there is a family constellation session happening in your city, try it as a participating representative and experience its effect on your life. I assure you that you will look forward to bringing up your own issues when attending the next one.
This was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.