History Of Family Constellation Therapy

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
Family problems can be hard to resolve

At times, complex psychological problems may be resolved with standard therapeutic methods. Even if it takes time to find a method that works, counseling can be a process, and learning what works for you may be beneficial. Family constellation therapy offers a different approach to dynamic family therapy for families and individuals struggling with family traumas or concerns. 

What is family constellation therapy?

Family constellation therapy is a type of counseling based on the idea that problems may sift down through generations to cause stress in the present moment.
It posits that when we examine our feelings and perceptions in a "field of knowing," we can break out of familial patterns that cause suffering. Working through your family constellation with this type of therapy may help you find the cause of long-term conflicts within yourself and your family.  
It can be normal to feel stress in a family dynamic. Feeling stress may not always signify a conflict or traumatic family bond. Loving your family or feeling that they are important to you may cause stress when conflict arises. It is sometimes a form of positive stress caused by specific positive dynamics in the family system that may be pressuring, intense, or challenging to understand. 
This type of family therapy targets these stressors, generational family ideals, and how your family might impact your personality, goals, and thoughts. It might sometimes be mixed with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). 

The history of family constellation therapy

Alfred Adler was the first to use the term "family constellation" to refer to the bonds and sense of belonging that may exist within a family tree. However, family constellation theory was developed by a German therapist named Bert Hellinger. Hellinger developed this new therapy by combining his earlier work in related therapies with his own life experiences and feelings.
Today, many other therapists use the family constellation method as their sole practice or alternative therapy to treat family and individual problems. However, given the small number of studies proving its efficacy, many have criticized this type of mental health therapy for not being evidence based. Still, the existing research suggests family constellations can produce positive mental health outcomes and enhanced family dynamics. Bert Hellinger's work is often known as the cornerstone of this therapy as it is known today. 

Family constellations and patriarchal views

The family constellations books and videos produced by Hellinger were written in his native German language. Hellinger had controversial views, and those who have read the work may feel that his views were patriarchal, valuing antiquated gender roles and stereotypes. Additionally, the original workbooks considered homosexuality a disease and may have contained antisemitic texts. 
Although the origins of this therapy method include outdated and harmful material, modern forms of family constellations therapy do not necessarily include these views. Talk to your therapist about your concerns before starting a therapy you're unsure about.  

Concepts in family constellations therapy

The following concepts may help you understand this approach to family constellations therapy.

Multigenerational impact of trauma: The long-term impact

Family constellation therapy may assume that events in your family line or throughout your family history impact how you think, feel, and behave in the present moment. One individual's grief, fear, or anger might influence the entire family because the family system is considered connected in the morphogenic field. 

Morphogenic field

The morphogenic field, which constellation work is based on, is a conceptual and symbolic energy field that contains a group's memories and specific energies. That group can be a family, a community, a country, or the entire world population. Because this energy field contains all the knowledge from the group, it may help us understand the sources of our issues, even if no one has told us the facts. 

Orders of love

Hellinger identified several orders of love from which love follows. The two fundamental orders of love were:

  • Everyone in the group has the same right to belong and always belongs
  • Everyone who belongs must be given their specific rightful place

Excluded family

At times, families may exclude certain family members by choice or through circumstance. In family constellations, those excluded are thought to affect the entire family, even after the family no longer has contact with them. Some examples of excluded families discussed in the constellation process are:

  • Babies who were lost 
  • Babies or children who were adopted
  • Death in the family
  • Ex-spouses and past partners from prior relationships
  • Family who no longer have contact with the rest of the family for various reasons, including trauma

According to family constellation theory, these exclusions may cause conflicts. If another individual in the household takes their place, Hellinger believed this new individual would take on the other person's emotional struggles, addictions, or even physical illnesses.

Drive to belong

Family constellations therapy identifies the drive to belong as one of the most significant influencers in family relationships. If someone feels they don't belong, they may act out, start conflict, or cause dysfunction to gain belonging. 

Hidden loyalties

Within the family, people may experience hidden loyalties, according to the family constellations theory. The theory states that all individuals have loyalties to family ancestors who died before or family we've never met from previous generations. These hidden loyalties and relationships may lead us to follow patterns, develop habits, and make unhealthy choices we can't understand based on our limited information. Constellation-focused family therapy may help some individuals understand how these loyalties drive them to make better decisions and avoid harmful experiences. For example, a parent may find that they’ve been giving preferential treatment to one child. By addressing this imbalance, they can give the other child rights reserved for the favored child. 


Uses for family constellation therapy

This type of therapy can address various physical, mental, social, and spiritual concerns. This therapeutic method may help people overcome the following concerns: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use disorder 
  • Unhealthy habits 
  • Failures at work
  • Negative relationship patterns
  • Household dysfunction, including between a parent and child
  • Past trauma
  • Grief
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Physical illnesses
  • Financial problems
  • Phobias
  • Excessive guilt

Family constellation therapy methods

In a typical family constellations therapy session, the therapist may help a client identify a seeker, a facilitator, and possibly other participants in a family. The seeker is known as the individual who comes to resolve an issue. The facilitator is the therapist, who directs the constellation. The other participants may be actual family, other metaphorical people, or another role.

The seeker's issue

The seeker is a therapy client who comes to a therapist with an issue they want to resolve or overcome. The issue can be anything from nail-biting or smoking to relationship issues or depression. They briefly tell the facilitator what their issue is, but they don't explain it in detail or suggest any causes for the issue. Then, they observe.

Embodying the family constellation in a group

If other people are involved in the session, the facilitator may choose different people to represent specific family groups, possibly from multiple generations, in a roleplay. The facilitator may also choose people to represent a group the seeker belongs to or an ideal they follow.

The facilitator then arranges the participants in a way that might be meaningful for the seeker as part of their family constellations approach. Everyone may stay still during the role play, giving the seeker time to connect with the morphogenic field and determine if the arrangement feels true for them.

Making adjustments

The facilitator may adjust the arrangement until the seeker feels it's "right." It may take some time to feel the truth or untruth of each arrangement. When the seeker accepts an arrangement, they might connect with it by feeling and thinking about the causes of their emotions to identify the source of their concerns. 

The facilitator may then suggest a sentence for each of the participants in the group to say. The seeker takes their place in the family constellation, and each person says their sentence. If the suggestion doesn't ring true for them, the facilitator can try again.

Resolving emotional distresses

After the family constellation exercise, the seeker, having learned the potential source of their issue, may be prompted by their counselor to learn more about the person (or part of their past) related to the issue in question. If an individual is still alive, they might choose to connect with that person directly on an emotional level to bring healing to the relationship. 

Suppose the individual is deceased or otherwise unavailable. In that case, the seeker may find other methods to learn about what occurred in the past or what that person may represent to resolve those lingering concerns. 

Family constellation therapy settings

This type of therapy may occur in a group workshop or individual counseling session. Both have been proven effective, although each may require different methods. 


In family constellation workshops, group take turns being the seeker and the participants. The procedure involves roleplay, giving each person a turn to discuss their issues and have them played out in front of them. 

Individual counseling

In individual counseling, family constellation sessions often require imagination because there are no other participants to play the roles of various groups. The therapist might take on the role of one family.

Counselor options

There are many counseling options for dealing with past traumas, family dynamics, and other stressors. If you don't feel that family constellations would work best for you, you might benefit from other types of therapy, such as CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), exposure therapy, or another method altogether. 

Additionally, online therapy has become a popular method for those who face barriers to in-person treatment.  Research shows that internet-based therapy platforms have been successful in helping people manage an array of symptoms related to problems with family. In a study on the efficacy of internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on childhood anxiety, researchers found that symptoms were significantly decreased or eliminated in 75% of participants. Internet-based CBT may help people reframe unhelpful thoughts or beliefs so that they are better able to understand and shift their behavior.

Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can message your counselor outside of sessions, any time of day, and they may get back to you as soon as possible. You can also choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with your licensed therapist.

Family problems can be hard to resolve

Counselor reviews

“Kris has been helping me for over a year and a half now. Whether it’s dealing with the day-to-day stresses of work or deep-seated issues from my childhood, she brings sensitivity, insight, and gentle humor. She’s also made some great book recommendations, both for the issues we’re talking about and for other interests of mine in terms of social issues. She’s pretty awesome and I’m happy to be able to connect with her via this platform.”

“Alisha has let me view situations in another perspective. Like the stressful times I’ve gone (still going) through with my family and my work. I’m really grateful for her time to listen to what’s on my mind and really making me comfortable with her. Thank you, Alisha!”


If you've struggled to find the root of a persistent mental health issue, family constellation therapy may be beneficial. You might identify the source of your problems and work through them with someone who leads the discussion. If you're interested in discussing this form of therapy, consider reaching out to a counselor for further insight.
Explore mental health and healing in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started