Family and Systemic Constellations are a living and growing body of knowledge that is mostly discovered through an experiential method of inquiry.
It successfully resists any attempts to be comprehensively defined. As soon as we say anything about it, including how it came about or who “invented” it, as soon as we call it this or that way, there is a myriad of voices who offer a different perspective.
Risking that, I offer my view that Family Constellations have been developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist, as an innovative and original approach, through synthesis of many different modalities and strands of knowledge coupled with his own phenomenological insights.
It was originally applied within a psychotherapy framework as a method of offering professional help in ameliorating some of life’s difficulties which are encountered in everyday living. At the beginning it was maybe merely a method in which unrelated persons were set up to represent family members, and through which we gained a direct insight into the dynamics operating in the system being set up.
A peculiar phenomenon which became apparent through these “set ups” was that strangers somehow picked up the information about the family members when they were set up to represent them.
This phenomenon of “representative perception,” which was informed by what was later referred to as “the knowing field” allowed us to gain insight into the particular family dynamics, the blockages and all, and then also to balance, to unblock, to restore, or to include, which often brought relief and healing.
The phenomenon of the knowing field and of the ability to gain direct knowledge about any human system through representative’s perception has become a hallmark of the constellation method which distinguishes it from any other. So, “constellations” are a method of setting up, the doing of it aptly named “constellating.”
As constellation after constellation was set up, with the same phenomena being observed, firstly by Hellinger and then many others, and in many different cultures all over the world, it became obvious that we are not only dealing with a method of therapy but also learning something important about how our relationships operate.
The universal laws of life, often called the “orders of love” started to emerge and revealed a view of most intricate, co-dependent network of interrelationships in human systems, governed by mighty forces which followed their own logic, unrelenting in pressures they exert on us. And which we are totally oblivious about. Through constellation method, we started to re-discover the ancient knowledge available to many traditional tribal cultures, all but lost for us, the inhabitants of modern world.
This knowledge, this time coming to us through the phenomenological insight gained through many constellation set ups, became intrinsic to what we today refer as the Family or Systemic Constellations approach.
It is a new body of knowledge of human relationships, which concerns the orders that operate in our relationships, the importance of systemic conscience as well as the awareness about how these are being played out in partner or parent-children relationships, relationships to our ancestors, relationship between victims and perpetrators, national conflicts and reconciliation, and relationship to the Spirit.
It allows us to look at some of the most difficult issues we as humans face in our lives and it guides our interventions. It also sometimes allows the opportunity to alleviate profound suffering. In that it is the most powerful approach I have come across, and many others who encountered it around the world agree. Its popularity has been increasing steadily, the enthusiasm and acclaim by which it is met only matched by the controversy it also regularly elicits from more established disciplines.
Out of this experiential knowledge gained through many a constellation, the view of the world emerged which we can not ignore but by which our established worldview is deeply challenged and with it some crucial concepts that it rests on: like the very notion of good and bad, conscience, independence, freedom, free choice, rationalism and individuality, dualism of matter and non-matter, separation of body and soul – and other.
However, if we take the phenomena we observe in constellations seriously, then a whole new world opens up to us. This world is uncharted, reveals itself to us only in the next step, is mysterious, deep and powerful, limitless, conscious, living, breathing and above all – loving.
Available to us only if we approach it from below, humbly, sticking closely to the ground, with respect and no intention, only helpful if nothing is demanded. Learning how to navigate through this world requires years of learning, purification and spiritual discipline, the learning that never stops as new, ever more astonishing vistas open in front of our (closed) eyes.
So, what is a constellation? What does it mean to constellate? Who or what helps in constellations? Can it be practised within a psychotherapy or any other framework?
One can, maybe, only use “constellation method” without applying “constellation approach,” or apply “constellation approach” without adopting the “constellation world view” which lurks behind.
The question of “what is a constellation” or “what is a Family Constellation” can only be answered by individuals who are on different stages of walking the constellation path and the answer will be different for everyone. Also, constellations keep changing, growing from method into a science of human relationship into a world view.
The insights gained through constellations also reveal that the “orders of love,” whose universality and immutability we only just discovered, might be changing. In addition, the founder of the constellation approach keeps developing it further, claiming that what we have put much effort to learn so far is already superseded by new ways of family constellating.
No wonder we have difficulty explaining what it is we do when we offer constellations! No wonder every attempt among the practitioners to find this one definition of “Family Constellations” remains elusive.
This also makes Family Constellations a unique discipline, different from any other. It is in constant flux, can become known only through our own personal, individual perspective, is experiential and essentially undefinable.
If I have learned anything in my twenty-something years of “constellation contact,” it is that it always keeps me on my toes, requiring constant learning, re-learning, letting go, challenging assumptions and change. By now, I am certain there is no end to that – there is always more!
First published at North American Systemic Constellations Blog
More on Systemic Constellations you can read an article and an interview with Alemka by a Master of Psychology student here: