Seven years ago I read an article entitled, “How to Heal Your Family” (Spirituality and Health, Nov/Dec, 2006). It was the beginning of my fascination and, subsequently, my study of Systemic Constellation Work. The article appeared to synthesize much of my own thinking, especially about healing trauma—integrating systems theory, spirituality, mindfulness, and somatic and energy work. Basically, the article described the “family soul” as the powerful unifying energy that connects members of the intergenerational family (in the broadest sense). It reframed chronic symptoms as an unconscious way of connecting with family members or attempting to create balance in a system blocked because of overwhelming loss, trauma or tragedy in the family history.
The article described how chronic problems that don’t respond to traditional therapeutic interventions may be an “entanglement” in an unresolved issue in the system. This made sense given my training exploring family “themes” and “invisible loyalties” when constructing genograms. What was different was how we could create a “field” whereby the root of the problem would become visible. Representatives for relevant family members or elements could be set up in spacial relationship to each other in the center of the group. Then, by focusing on the representatives’ reports of their somatic reactions; on systemic ideas, such as “We are all connected” and “Everyone has a right to belong to the family soul” even if they are the “bad guy”; as well as on the facts of the story, the facilitator intuits statements to describe and/or reconfigure the constellation. This often brings harmony to the system and healing resolution to the client. It seems part systemic work, part energy or soul work, and part magic.
My internal determination to find out more about Constellation work might have gone the way of many other innovative techniques that had previously caught my attention—which is to say, it would have been put on my Wish List for future research--were it not for an email two weeks later from one of the constellators quoted in the article, Annie Block Pearl, MS. Since she was in NYC, I had made a mental note to research training with her, but before I got to it, I received an emailed invitation to one of her constellation workshops. Coincidence or Synchronicity-- I decided to follow my intuition and attend the workshop.
After a brief group tuning- in meditation, I was chosen as a representative for the mother of a young woman whose creative work had come to a screeching halt. This was the first constellation of the day. Immediately upon entering the “field”, I experienced strong feelings and somatic sensations. I felt paralyzed with despair despite attempts by the representative for the client to engage me. It was only after a representative for my mother (the Grandmother) was brought in that I became emotionally responsive, first with fear and trepidation of her criticism, then with relief and childlike tears when she seemed to soften towards me. “I blamed you for your father’s leaving,” she said to me. This information was then verified by the client who said that indeed her Grandfather had left home one night and never returned. The Grandmother’s representative in acknowledging the cause of her anger and rejection released her daughter, the Mother. After a few moments of taking in this disclosure, I (as the Mother of the client) felt energy begin to flow within me. When I felt filled up and grounded, I was able to turn to face the representative for my daughter, the Client. Now my heart was open to receive her. When she approached me, I took her into my arms, and she cried with joy. There was no doubt to me that there was a healing release that took place in that short interaction, not only for the client, but also for myself as I related to the dilemma of both the daughter and the mother in a deeply personal way.
This first constellation convinced me that something profound happens when a sacred space is set up with the intention of following shifts in energy without judgment. At this point I have participated in hundreds of constellations, a Learning Circle, intensive study and supervision in Germany and Ct., and presently a monthly peer practice group. I am still awed by the power of this method to heal the heart, even as a part of me wants to dismiss it as hocus pocus. However, research in Quantuum Physics, Field Theory, and Epigenetics, as well as in Attachment and the Emotional Brain are shedding light on some of the mysteries underlying this phenomena.
Constellation work was developed by Bert Hellinger, who, like many of his counterparts in the therapy field, is both brilliant but controversial. His ideas sometimes seem too patriarchal for my sensibilities, and his earlier methods too harsh. Despite this, however, Constellation work continues to grow in America, albeit at a much slower pace than in other parts of the world, with American constellators helping the work evolve creatively in schools, in therapy offices, in organizations, and even in cities. (The Knowing Field, Fall 2013 ).
Personally, I now facilitate monthly constellations workshops. I use it in consultations and supervision, setting up representatives for the client and his/her family of origin and the therapist and his/her family of origin. With individuals, families and couples, I use small figures or floor markers as representatives to externalize the problem, to resolve dilemmas, and to nurture empathy and reduce judgment.
Beyond techniques, what has most enriched my work is my increased reliance on intuition, my freedom in suggesting different ways to get to the “heart” of the problem, my ability to let go of outcome while engaging clients in observing their projections, and most of all, my ability to help clients appreciate how often symptoms are an expression of love and loyalty to their family soul. This method has the potential of reducing paralyzing shame, raising self-esteem, and energizing and motivating clients to find more life-giving ways to honor the sacrifices and suffering of those that came before them, thus freeing them and future generations from carrying a burden that no longer serves anyone. I know it has done this for me.