What are Systemic Family Constellations?
Systemic Family Constellations are a form of somatic and phenomenologically-oriented therapy, often practiced in groups or in one-to-one sessions. The best way to describe a constellation is to imagine a cross-roads between a shamanic ritual and a psycho-therapeutic intervention. Family-based constellation work was founded by Bert Hellinger in 1978. The founding principles of constellations are about relationship, and the journey towards occupying one's own rightful place in life. Hellinger called this the Orders of Love, which when transgressed, can lead to imbalances, symptoms, diseases, and a recurring fate that persists knocking at each generations' door until that which has been ignored, is finally seen.
Symptoms, illnesses, and disorders often manifest when we ignore or exclude something from the system. A system is always part of a larger system, and can also be affected by a neighbouring system. One family system may affect the life of another, for example when a child is born, or one society's system may affect that of another; such as that which has happened with colonialism, slavery, genocide, ecocide, natural disasters, and war, to name a few.
In a group family constellation, there is one issue-holder, a group of representatives, and a facilitator. The issue-holder gives a brief summary of their story to the facilitator, and most importantly is asked to reflect on what their heart's desire is. What then ensues is a live movement ritual where the representatives embody the characters, themes, ancestors, or places from the issue-holder's story on a living-map. The purpose of the constellation is to simply bear witness to what arises, to the facts that are, not the interpretations, with respect, humility, and honour. If movement begins to flow forwards, towards life, then order can be re-established, new meanings arise, and that which does not belong can be returned to those to whom it belongs.
It is often unbearable for the collective soul of the family to allow for only one of its own to bear all the suffering, and so everyone leaps in to share a piece of the burden, lovingly but with sacrifice, unconsiciously or not. When this happens, we witness various forms of entanglements...I will follow you, rather me than you, I will even up the suffering by suffering myself. Our task then is to be present with the truths that resonate deep within us, to make space for it, and to work on behalf of the system without getting hooked into the story. We must find the strength, courage, and vulnerability to agree to the fate that has past, for we cannot change it.
When working one-to-one, I often use a family of sculptures, felts, or play-mobiles to represent all the characters of a client's life story, which the client can then experiment standing on, speaking to, or sensing into. In both formats of constellation work, sentences are offered by the facilitator, to the client, to speak to the representatives and ancestors, real or imagined. These systemic sentences have been designed to touch the very essence of the soul, piercing poetry that bears the deepest meaning, said with the fewest possible words. When working with groups, I experiment with the power of song, drums, and other instruments to create soundscapes that energize the systemic field of the constellation. I am currently researching and collaborating with multi-instrumentalist composers, who accompany my facilitation through the playing of live music, exploring the synergy between movement, spoken sentences and instrumental songs.
We need to help the client stay in the strength of their tragedy rather than go back into the weakness of their trauma. - Judith Hemming