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Family Constellations

Systemic Work has applications for family, organizational, community, and social systems. Bert Hellinger is widely acknowledged as the founder. Hellinger developed Systemic Work in Europe primarily for working with families (family constellations) and later for organisations (organisational constellations).

The family constellation

A family constellation is a spacious display of a family system like a living family photo. The purpose of a set-up is to gain insight into symptoms and unconscious dynamics.
In a Family Constellation there are different roles:

  • Facilitator
  • Client (Person presenting the question)
  • Representatives

The process

  1. The set-up starts with a brief conversation between the facilitator and the client. The client tells about the issue or problem, he/she would like to get more insight in.
  2. If necessary, the facilitator makes a genogram.
  3. Then the facilitator will ask the client to choose and invite representatives as his/her family members. This can be a representative for the father, one for the mother, one for her/his brother or sister and for her/himself.
  4. When the representatives are chosen the client will set them up spatially in relation to each other. Usually it is the client that takes the representatives by the shoulders with both hands and brings them to the right place. During the set-up, the client remains in contact with itself, feeling his own inner movement and follows it to the place where he brings the representative that feels right for him. He is also in contact with the representatives but also with the forces around him, and he can receive signals to help him find the right place for a representative. This is done with all representatives, until they all have their place.
  5. The facilitator now asks the representatives questions and the set-up comes to 'life'. The representatives provide information about feelings and thoughts and eventually has the urge to move. As a result, the underlying dynamics of the system become visible. By recognising the dynamics, change is possible, allowing the energy to flow. The system can recover if a healthy place is found for all members.
  6. While being set-up, the representatives watch for accurate changes in their bodily sensations and feelings. For example, their heart beats faster, that they want to look at the ground, that they suddenly feel heavy or very light, or angry, or sad. It is also helpful if they watch the images and the words that want to come out from inside.
For example, an American who was just learning German, heard during a set-up in which he represented a father, the same German sentence: "Sagen Sie Albert". Later he asked the question contributor if the name Albert met anything to him. "Of course," was the reply, "My father and my grandfather were called Albert and that is my middle name."
Another representative, who in the set-up represented the son of a father killed in a helicopter crash. heard constantly helicopter sounds. The son himself was once as a helicopter pilot and survived a crash with his father.

The effect of a family constellation

Once the set-up has taken place, the process continues. The experience, the insight and feeling of the set-up often has a lasting impact on the participants. Set-ups work on an unconscious level. The set-up makes patterns visible that occur in the family system. Experience shows that it is a generative process, which means that the solution offered brings further changes in motion. The process, which is often in motion months after the set-up, is also called the 'domino effect'.


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