History And Methods Of Family Constellation Therapy | Constellations And Healing

By Jon Jaehnig|Updated June 28, 2022

Family constellations therapy offers a different approach that can help when it seems like nothing else will. Read on to learn about the unique family constellations method of psychotherapy, its healing properties, and its history.

Sometimes, difficult psychological problems can be resolved easily with common therapeutic methods. Even if the work takes time for healing, it can often be resolved with the first method your therapist tries. Sometimes, method after method fails, and you are left wondering if your mental health issues will ever be resolved.

Family constellation is a type of therapy based on the idea that problems sift down through generations to cause stress in the here and now. When we examine our feelings and perceptions in a “field of knowing,” we can break out of familial patterns that cause suffering. Working through our family constellation with family constellation exercises helps us to find the cause of our problems and resolve them.

This may sound surprising, but in reality, all of our families cause us feelings of stress. That doesn’t mean that your family or various family members are bad; it just means that family is a major part of your life. It’s just like having a good job or going to a good school. These are great parts of your life, but they can still cause you stress.

The family constellations approach isn’t for everyone, but it can be particularly helpful for people who develop patterns of stress or problems because of their family lives.

History of Family Constellation Therapy: Origins, Benefits, And Impacts

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Therapy Helps Us Connect With Our Loved Ones Better.

Alfred Adler was the first to use the term “family constellation” to refer to the bonds and sense of belonging that exist within a family tree, but Family Constellation Theory was developed by a German therapist named Bert Hellinger. He developed the family constellations form of 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, either as their sole practice or as an alternative therapy, for treatment of both family and individual problems.

While Bert Hellinger doesn’t claim to have created the concept of family constellations treatment, his work is the cornerstone of family constellation therapy as it is known today. Hellinger came from a German family that lived through World War II without sacrificing their moral values. As an adolescent, he was supposed to go to Hitler Youth meetings, but instead he often spent time with a Catholic organization that the Nazis considered disloyal to their cause. The Gestapo listed him as an enemy of the people, and he only escaped their harassment when he was drafted.

Soon after, Hellinger became a Catholic priest. Working as a missionary with the Zulu people of South Africa, he observed how this different culture provided treatment and resolved problems originating with the family. He also noticed that the Zulu spiritual ceremonies were very similar to the rituals of the Catholic Mass. These influences figured into his later development of a family constellation approach.

The Beginnings As A Psychotherapist

After returning to Europe, Hellinger left the priesthood to become a psychotherapist. He studied with notable psychotherapists from several different schools of therapy. During this time, his influences included various family systems thought leaders in specific therapies and treatments such as:

  • Psychoanalytic methods
  • Transactional analysis
  • Primal therapy
  • Psychodrama
  • Family sculpting
  • Transgenerational psychology
  • Neurolinguistics programming
  • Provocative therapy
  • Holding therapy
  • Life scripts
  • Brief therapy

In the 1990s, after 50 years of working with families around the world, Bert Hellinger put all of these diverse ideas together to create a new type of therapy and healing. Prior to his death, he wrote an impressive 83 books, and he has also conducted countless seminars.

Important Note: Family Constellations And Patriarchal Views

The content — books and videos mostly — that came directly from Hellinger was produced in his native German language. What may not be obvious to people who don’t speak German is that Hellinger had many controversial views. He tends to take a very patriarchal view, valuing antiquated gender roles and stereotypes, and he seems to consider homosexuality a disease that needs to be cured. Some people see his views as anti-Semitic as well.

However, this type of family therapy doesn’t need to involve any of these views. The core truths of family constellations are considered valid by many therapists with more modern, inclusive approaches.

Concepts in Family Constellations Therapy

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The following concepts can help you understand this approach to therapy.

Multigenerational Impact of Trauma: The Long-Term Impact

Family constellations assume anything that happened in your family line or throughout your family history patterns the way you think, feel, and behave now. One individual’s grief, fear, or anger influences the entire family. Because the family system is connected in the morphogenic field, which we’ll talk about next, they all feel the effects of things that happened to each of the family members before them.

Morphogenic Field

The morphogenic field, which constellation work uses, is an energy field that contains the memories and specific energies of a group. That group can be a family, a community, a country, or even the entire population of the world. Because this energy field contains all of the knowledge from the group, it can help us understand the sources of our issues, even if no one has told us the facts, and work as a form of treatment to underlying problems you may be facing.

Orders of Love

Hellinger identified several orders of love from which love follows. The two most important and basic orders of love are that (1) everyone in the group has the same right to belong and always does belong, and (2) everyone who belongs must be given their specific rightful place.

Excluded Family

You might think that your family would never exclude a family member, but unfortunately it happens all of the time and in more than one form. In family constellations, those who are excluded are thought to affect the entire family, even after the family no longer has contact with them. Some examples of excluded family members discussed in the constellation process are:

  • Babies who were miscarried or aborted
  • Babies or children who were given away for adoption
  • Death in the family, especially if someone died young
  • Ex-spouses and past partners from prior relationships
  • Family members who no longer have contact with the rest of the family for various reasons, including trauma

These excluded family members continue to affect the entire family. If another individual in the household takes their place, this new individual may take on their emotional struggles, addictions, or even physical illnesses.

Drive to Belong

This family constellation method identifies the drive to belong as the greatest influencer in our family relationships. If someone feels like they don’t belong, they’ll do anything to get that feeling of belonging.

Hidden Loyalties

Within the family, we all have loyalties. Sometimes, according to family constellations theory, we have loyalties to family members who died before us or family members we’ve never met from previous generations. These hidden loyalties and relationships can lead us to follow patterns, develop habits, and make unhealthy choices we can’t understand based on the factual information we have. Constellation-focused family therapy can help us understand how these loyalties are driving us, so we can make different decisions and avoid traumatic events.

Uses for Family Constellation Therapy

This can be used for a wide variety of problems, including physical, mental, social, or spiritual issues. This therapeutic method can help us overcome problems like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addictions
  • Bad habits
  • Failure 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 constellation session, there is a seeker, a facilitator, and possibly other participants. The seeker is the individual who comes to resolve an issue. The facilitator is the therapist, who directs the constellation. The other participants are unrelated people who might also be seekers in their sessions.

The Seeker’s Issue

The seeker has an issue they need to resolve or overcome. The issue can be anything from nail-biting or smoking to relationship issues or depression. They very briefly tell the facilitator what their issue is, but they don’t explain it in detail or suggest any reasons for the issue. Then, they sit down and observe.

Embodying the Family Constellation in a Group

If other people are involved in the session, the facilitator will choose or suggest different people to represent specific family members, possibly from multiple generations, in a role play. 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 stays still for a time during the role play, giving the seeker time to connect with the morphogenic field and determine if the arrangement rings true for them.

Making Adjustments

The facilitator adjusts 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, he or she will connect with it on the level of feelings and then think. This helps the seeker identify the source of their current issue.

At that point, the facilitator suggests 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. Again, if the suggestion doesn’t ring true for them, the facilitator can try again.

Resolving Emotional Distresses

After the family constellation exercise is over, the seeker, having learned the source of their current issue, goes back to their life to learn more about the person (or part of their past) related to the issue in question. If that individual is still alive, they can connect with that person directly on an emotional level to bring healing to the relationship. If the individual is deceased or otherwise unavailable, the seeker looks for other ways to learn about what happened in the past or what that person may represent, so they can resolve those lingering ancestral issues.

Family Constellation Therapy Settings

This therapy approach typically takes place in either a workshop or individual counseling sessions in a private practice. Both have been proven effective, although different methods are needed for each.

Workshops

In family constellation workshops, people in the group take turns being the seeker and the participants. The procedure is much like the one explained above.

Individual Counseling

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Therapy Helps Us Connect With Our Loved Ones Better.

In individual counseling, family constellation sessions often require imagination because there are no other participants to play the roles of various group members. The therapist may invite you to envision a situation where you connect with an excluded group member or where you connect with other members of the family if you’re the excluded one.

Getting Help

Research shows that internet-based therapy platforms have been successful in helping people manage an array of symptoms that can be 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 helps people to reframe intrusive or unhelpful thoughts or beliefs so that they are better able to understand and shift their behavior, which can create more healthy bonds between family members. The report also notes that online therapy eliminates barriers to care, such as cost, time, and availability.

As discussed above, online therapy can provide the tools to deal with mental health concerns arising out of, or linked to, one’s household. With BetterHelp, you can message your counselor outside of sessions, any time of day, and they will get back to you as soon as possible. And if you are uncomfortable sharing private details, unlike with face-to-face therapy, you will have the opportunity to participate anonymously. The licensed therapists at BetterHelp have helped thousands of people work through complicated emotions related to family. Below, read reviews from BetterHelp users experiencing similar issues.

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.”

Kris Fant counselor profile

“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 to share so much with her. Thank you, Alisha!”

Alisha Cooper counselor profile

Conclusion: Family Constellations And Family Tree

If you’ve struggled to find the root of persistent mental health issues, family constellation therapy may be the perfect solution for you. You can identify the source of your problems and work through them with a trusted therapist. Enjoying a fulfilling life with lasting relationships and healthy household dynamics is possible – all you need are the right tools and understanding.

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