What is Family Constellation work?

Each of us belongs to a family system extending over several generations. When the family system is balanced, the individuals within it can receive the generational flow of love from those who came before them, and they can pass it on to those who follow. However, families can only function harmoniously in this way when each family member belonging to the system has an equally valued and respected place within it.

Disturbances to the natural flow of love within a family can result from various situations and events, for example:

  • the untimely loss of a parent or child
  • disrespect for or exclusion of a family member
  • interrupted bonding between parent and child
  • adoptions
  • miscarriages, stillbirths and abortions
  • serious illness of a family member
  • unresolved feelings towards former partners
  • war experiences
  • the presence of victims and perpetrators of crime and injustice
  • family secrets

The deep residual impact of these difficult fates is often felt generations later, even when the particular family member is forgotten or long deceased. The unresolved issues are passed on by a balancing mechanism (the family soul) to an innocent and unknowing member of a future generation, often a child or grandchild.

When an individual is “tied up” in the fate or business of another member of the extended family, we describe it as being entangled, or entanglement. When entanglement occurs, it results in difficulties and suffering which may affect many generations.

These difficulties show up in a variety of ways, such as loneliness, depression, alcohol and drug dependency, suicide, mental or physical illness, recurring accidents, constricting and recurring family patterns, relationship difficulties with parents, partner or children, and inability to achieve true potential.

In Family Constellation work the focus is on revealing those unconscious and trans-generational patterns of entanglement and then seeking to find a new solution. Relationships can then be re-aligned, allowing healing forces to flow freely. The process is often profoundly touching and seems to work at the very soul of all present.

Family Constellation work was pioneered by the innovative German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger, and has gained rapid international attention over the last decade. The method incorporates techniques, procedures and experiences from other psychotherapeutic approaches including Systemic Family Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, Intergenerational Theories, Primal Therapy and Behaviour Therapy. Among its predecessors are, for example: Virginia Satir, Boszormenivir Nagy, Jakob Moreno, Eric Berne and Milton Erickson.

How does a Family Constellation work?

Context – a choice of group/workshop or one-to-one session.
Family Constellation work is usually undertaken in a group or workshop context. However, it can also be used very effectively in an individual session with the help of objects or figures, for example, or in the form of a guided visualisation.

The decision between a group or individual session is a personal one.
Some people are more comfortable working with one other person. Others find the group environment stimulating and wish to gain insight from participating in and witnessing other people’s constellations.

How does a group session work in practice?
There are usually sixteen to twenty-two participants in Angelika Chisholm’s workshops. Of these, usually ten participants will have the opportunity to set up their own constellation during a weekend workshop.

The group sits in a circle, and the centre space is the work area. The circle of participants, called the holding circle, is a place from which participants can observe and hold the energy gathering from the specific constellation in progress.

A participant who is undertaking their own constellation brings to the workshop an issue which they want to address. It is most effective if the issue is deeply felt, and has the most impact on the person’s life at that time.

The Constellation process starts with a brief interview, where the participant is asked who belongs to the family and what specific events have occurred (examples of these are listed at the beginning of this web page and in the paragraph below entitled “What issues can be addressed?”). The participant is then asked to select other workshop participants to represent members of his or her family. They move to the work area, and the participant arranges them intuitively in relation to one another. Once the representatives are placed, the constellation comes alive.

For those who set up a Family Constellation, there is minimal need for self disclosure, and other family members need not be present. Participants who choose not to set up their own Family Constellation find that being a representative in a constellation of another is in itself an enriching and powerful experience. Even witnessing a constellation can touch the soul deeply and change your life.

Outcome

With the help of the Family Constellation process, it is possible to see the wider forces that are affecting the relationship system and the individual. New insights and understanding arise from seeing new dimensions of the particular issue. Individuals can find their “right place” and an authentic feeling of belonging. Others may be re-aligned to their unique purpose and experience renewed energy, passion and peace. Many begin to feel nourished at a deep level and experience acceptance and wholeness. A resolution is felt when the whole system begins to relax and gains its strength and vitality. Oftentimes, however, a constellation might not reach full resolution at the time, but rather a certain movement that creates momentum for healing over time.

Preparation For Your Own Constellation

Preparation is important if you wish to gain the most benefit. When you register for a Family Constellation Workshop, you will be provided with information to help you to prepare for the workshop.

After Care

If any discomfort is experienced after the workshop, you are invited to contact Angelika Chisholm or your own therapist. In most cases, a brief telephone conversation is all that is needed. However, for some people a follow-up consultation can be beneficial. Please enquire about the rates applicable.

Participants’ Responsibility

Family Constellation work can involve intense emotional experiences. It is therefore important for prospective participants to take full responsibility for themselves. This includes considering your emotional and physical stability. If you have concerns, please discuss them with the facilitator prior to the workshop. Please inform the facilitator of any significant physical or psychological condition.

Please note that it is your responsibility to read workshop information distributed to participants beforehand.

Confidentiality

It is expected that all workshop participants commit to a code of confidentiality regarding personal details and issues of other workshop participants. However, it cannot be guaranteed that other participants will maintain confidentiality.

Deep personal disclosure is not usually necessary. If you do not wish to disclose a particularly sensitive piece of information during a workshop but feel it may be necessary to your constellation, you can inform the facilitator in private at any time.

What issues can be addressed?

There is a range of different issues that individuals and couples can find assistance with, including:

  • Relationship issues between partners, parents and children
  • Concern for the wellbeing of children and siblings
  • Divorce and separation
  • Adoption, miscarriage, abortion
  • Family secrets
  • Addictions
  • Loneliness and depression
  • Painful emotional and behavioural patterns
  • Incest, rape, violence, murder
  • Death, suicide, loss

What can Family Constellations assist you with?

  • Learning more about your unconscious dynamics, and how they affect your life
  • Coming to terms with a difficult fate
  • Releasing old restricting life patterns
  • Experiencing renewed life energy
  • Engaging positively and creatively with your family
  • Enhancing your ability to fulfil your full potential
  • Reaching success in personal and professional life

The Orders of Love

These are a number of principles which safeguard healthy relationships within the extended family system:

  • Everybody in the system belongs equally, no matter what their fate, e.g. early infant death, or severe mental and physical illness.
  • Each person has his or her rightful place in the system including those who made room for another person, e.g. a divorced spouse.
  • Whoever enters the system first has precedence over those who come later.
  • Those who come later take from those who come earlier, whatever the price.
  • Parents give and children take.
  • In a relationship between adults, the giving and taking need to be balanced.
  • Guilt and merit belong to whoever earned them.
  • After an appropriate time, families must be allowed to forget what is in the past.
  • The order of precedence between systems needs to be followed, e.g. a new family system takes precedence over a family of origin.

constellation

Who is included in a Family System?

Parents, children, grandparents, the siblings of parents and grandparents, and sometimes ancestors even further back.

It is important to include: those who have died early, including stillborn children, those adopted into or out of a family, biological relatives of adopted children, disgraced family members, everybody who made room to the advantage of the another – in particular, former partners of parents or grandparents, those whose misfortune or death brought the family an advantage or gain, victims of violence and murder by any members of the family, and sometimes people who have saved the life of a family member.

Please note that often only part of this information is needed to do a constellation.

It has been a gentle week of softly being with all the revelations. The healing just is not quantifiable. I find myself smiling quietly, much to the mystification of work colleagues! The back pain I have lived with for many years has eased and I am finding that mind, body, spirit and emotions are more closely linked with each other.- Linda Levien

As a Maori, my experience has been that the Family Constellation work aligns with my own view of the world, and my own conceptions of whakapapa (in this context, ‘connectedness’), wairua (the spiritual) and mauri (lifeforce). The Constellation work affirms for me that about which my Kaumatua (elders) speak and practice, namely the whakapapa – the ‘connectedness’ – of people to other people, to the land, and to all that is seen and unseen. For me, it also affirms their talk about the whakapapa of the past, to the present, to the future. For this reason, I trust the work and, with respect to my own experiences, have benefited from it.- James H. (Ngati Pukeko, Ngati Awa, Tuhoe)

I found the Family Constellation group immensely valuable for helping me understand and explore aspects that affect my family dynamic and in some ways underpin a lot of who I am. There is a Chinese proverb that says if you want to correct the world, you must first correct the State; if you want to correct the State, you must first correct the family, if you want to correct the family, you must first correct yourself. This approach enabled me to see ways through difficulties and come to a stronger sense of peace - it's magical and incredibly powerful.- Nova Paul

I have always been a skeptic about things I cannot logically explain, but when I attended the first Family Constellation workshop I couldn’t believe what was happening. As a representative I realised that I felt things that weren’t “mine”; they belonged to the person I was representing. When I asked people to be representatives in my constellation, they reported astonishingly accurate thoughts and feelings, typical of the person they were representing. The experience was deeply moving. I benefit equally when I “do” my own constellation or when I represent somebody in someone else's constellation. There is always an awareness or insight for me. So in a way, whether you work on your own family or help somebody else, the benefit is mutual. All this needs a caring, sensitive and wise facilitator who has facilitation skills as well as intuition, and one could not wish for a better facilitator than Angelika. I value her gentle nature and integrity, and her respect for all participants. I feel safe, and because she facilitates trust within the group, we also trust the feelings and thoughts that happen to us as representatives.- G.Fitzgibbon

Doing a Family Constellation has allowed me to acknowledge the incredibly sad fates of my forebears, which has freed me to focus more on the present and to have clearer boundaries, especially with my family of origin. When communicating with my siblings I no longer feel the strong sense of having to prove myself or to fight for space, and I no longer experience great anxiety about their possible reactions. This means I can enjoy them! I feel we appreciate and respect each other more.- M

Through watching my family of origin in a constellation, I have learned about the effect of difficult fates in my family and how this has impacted on the remaining family to the present time. I would strongly recommend this unique experience to anyone grappling with difficult family relationships.- JG

Disclaimer

Any material provided in this website is intended for informational purposes only, and Family Constellations are not presented as a substitute for psychiatric or medical care. Appropriate professional medical advice should be sought before taking any action in relation to any of the subject matter contained in this website. While Angelika Chisholm does her best to provide useful, accurate, up-to-date information, she does not guarantee that the material is correct and up-to-date. If you have reason to believe any of this information is not correct, please contact Angelika Chisholm at wings4angelika@clear.net.nz. Where this website contains links to other websites, Angelika Chisholm does not accept any responsibility for the material on such sites. Any reproduction of material from this website must be only for non-commercial or private use, and must ensure that Angelika Chisholm is appropriately acknowledged.