What are Systemic Constellations?

*Upcoming 2024 Workshops:*

--> Family Constellations Closed Group: Mahab Kazmi and I will be running a closed constellation group limited to 20 participants throughout 2024. If you would like to register your interest, please email me here.

--> My annual Trauma and the Field Workshop will be co-hosted with the Centre for Systemic Constellations in November 2024. It will be 2-days long, in person, in central London. I will be focusing on how to use constellation work and somatic trauma therapy to work with habits, patterns, symptoms and syndromes. If you would like to register your interest, please email me here.

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 adopted, bringing two or more family systems together. When we look at the effects that colonialism, slavery, genocide, ecocide, natural disasters, and war have had, we see different social and planetary systems that have come together in some way, affecting each other. When working beyond the family, beyond one single culture, we might work with the archetypal or divine realms, issues that transcend ethnicity, race, sexuality and time. The field of the archetypes is a timeless space that has accumulated stories of life and of death that have been systemically bound since time immemorial. In a constellation, it is important to discern what belongs to one's own bodily or personal realm, to the family or ancestral realm, to the archetypal realm, or to the divine realm, that is to the gods and godesses; god with a small g and multiple in their form and kind.

On a practical level, in a group workshop format, there is one issue-holder, about 20 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 i.e., a moving family sculpture. The purpose of the constellation is to 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 orders can be re-established and embodied, new meanings can be welcomed, and that which does not belong can be placed in the hands of those it belongs to.

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 sometimes everybody leaps in to share a piece of the burden, lovingly, but with sacrifice, an unconscious contract of the soul. When this happens, we witness various forms of entanglements. Entanglements are exactly what they sound like, when the fate of two or more family members, perhaps across the generations intertwines, merging into one story... You may take a moment to reflect on some of the following sentences: I will follow you, Let it be me rather than you, I will even up the suffering in this family by suffering myself. Our task is to be present with the truths that resonate deep within us, to make space for them, and to work on behalf of the system without getting hooked too much into the subjective particularities of 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 1-2-1, especially in the dawning of this virtual age, I will often use a family of heavy silver sculptures, felts, or play-mobiles to represent all the characters of a client's life story. When working in person, the client can then experiment standing on the felts, speaking to the sculptures, or sensing into them by touching them. In both formats of constellation work, that is 1-2-1 or group work, I will offer sentences to the client, to speak to the representatives and ancestors, real or imagined. These systemic sentences have been passed down from generations of family constellation teachings, and have been designed to touch the very essence of the soul, piercing poetry that bears the deepest meaning, said with the fewest possible words. Lastly, when working with groups, I experiment with the power of song, drums, and other instruments in collaboration with musicians and composers. We attempt to create soundscapes that energize the systemic field of the constellation. In my recent research and workshops, I have collaborated with with multi-instrumentalist composers, who accompany my facilitation through the playing of live music, exploring the synergy between movement, spoken language and deeply embodied singing and humming.

Everything we hate and we shun, we engage with and become. - Bert Hellinger

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