Constellations FAQ

How They Work

Answers to Common Questions About Systemic Constellations

What are they?

Systemic constellations are a method of revealing and resolving hidden systemic dynamics that influence current issues and relationships. The goal is to quickly identify the dynamics of issues and find workable and sustainable steps for long term change. The experience involves a group of people we call participants (who may or may not know each other) and a facilitator. The facilitator invites participants to identify a personal issue they seek to better understand resolve. Next, the facilitator selects a main participant, one whose issue the next constellation will focus on, and asks him or her to choose participants to play the role of representatives – the people who are directly involved in the real life issue under examination. What follows is a unique exploration of relationships, underlying dynamics, history and truth. Representatives don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the issue. They just need to be present and respond to the main participant with honesty. Being involved in the process may have a deeply therapeutic benefit not just for the main participant in the constellation, but also for the representative and participants who bear witness to the process.

How large is the group?

It varies, but usually a common group size is twelve to fifteen, although some groups may be much larger.

What is the set up like?

In the United States, it is customary for the constellations to take place in a circle. Participants sit in chairs that define the outside of circle with the representatives usually being placed inside the circle, so that all can see and hear what is taking place.

If I attend a workshop or demonstration, do I have to set up my own constellation?

No. Significant benefits are available for those who do not directly set up a constellation. Often it may be enough to be an observer or a representative in a constellation to help resolve an issue.

If I want to set up a constellation, will I get to do it?

Frequently there is not enough time for everyone to set one up, during the course of a group workshop. Facilitators will let the group know what their process is for acknowledging this reality.

What is a representative?

In a group setting, it is usually a participant who is willing to be in the role as a representative. No special skill or training is required to be a representative. The representative simply reports what they experience when standing in for a person or aspect of the issue. A representative is not an acting role and nothing is scripted.

Does my partner need to be there, too?

Important members of the relational system are usually being represented by other participants in the group. This means your partner does not need to be present, although they would be welcome. This is the same with family members. If relationships or family members wish to attend, they do not need to be directly involved in your constellation. They may, instead, be represented by participants in the group.

What about confidentiality?

Confidentiality is very important toward creating a safe environment in which to do this sensitive work. Facilitators make every effort to secure an agreement among the participants to respect and hold in confidence the details of each constellation. It is the responsibility of each participant to maintain their own integrity with regard to personal information disclosed in a workshop. If you have a specific concern, talk with the facilitator before or, at an appropriate time, during the workshop.

Is this therapy?

Systemic Constellations are a method of working to reveal and resolve the hidden systemic dynamics that influence current issues. It is a process of systemic intervention with personal and organizational applications. Being involved in the process may have a deeply therapeutic benefit for the participant at a personal level, but that does not make the process a therapy, per se. This work can easily be incorporated into a clinical or therapeutic practice with substantial results for the client. When used in this way, it is an adjunct to therapy. When this method is used in an organizational or business setting, it is usually incorporated into coaching or consulting practices and could not be considered therapy.

Why is it called constellations?

As the work was being developed, the practice of placing representatives inside the circle, in a spatial relationship to each other, reminded some facilitators of a celestial constellation as they might be seen in the sky at night.

Testimonials

“Participating in a Family Constellation is a powerful experience. It is quite true that you benefit regardless if the focus is on you – you are constantly learning and growing from the healing of others. Personally, my constellation guided me in processing an unfinished loss, that I was unaware even needed any attention. It left me feeling more free and restored.

Mark as a facilitator, instills confidence and safety in the group. He holds the group with the utmost gentleness and guides the participants with the greatest skill. I believe that anyone could benefit from attending a constellation, especially since you choose your level of contribution and participation – a very safe idea for those first trying this new experience. I feel that I, as a person in the field of helping and healing, and I, as an individual human, benefited greatly.”

– Renee Balodis-Cox, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
To read more feedback from Systemic Constellation participants visit our Testimonials page.

Origin & Philosophy

The Theory Behind Constellations

Healing 2The following explanation is courtesy of Dr. Chris Walsh, MD:

It helps to understand this work, if we think of our family is an organic unit, much like a plant or an animal. Just as there are certain basic requirements for a tree to be healthy, there are also basic requirements for a family to be healthy. A tree needs to send its roots down into nourishing soil and its trunk needs to be strong enough to support its branches. Similarly, in a family the parents need to be able to be strong enough to support their children and the children need to be able to receive their parents’ love. When the natural order of the family is not followed, for example when the children behave like parents and the parents behave like children, then love does not flow effectively in that family. So ignoring these orders of love can lead to consequences for family members that may last for many generations, blighting peoples’ lives and limiting their potential in the world.

So human families operate within an innate structure through which the love naturally flows. The core system is that of a husband and a wife where each respects the other as man and as woman. They need to honor previous influences, such as each other’s families of origin or any previous marriage in the life of the partner. When they do this their mutual regard is free from distortion. Second relationships cannot replicate the first; they have their own characteristics, which need acknowledgement.

Mother and SonThe next most fundamental thing is that parents are parents and children are children. When the children behave like parents and the parents behave like children, then love does not flow effectively in that family. Family therapists call this “parentification of the children.” It often happens when parents suffer from chronic illnesses or when they die too young.

Sometimes these orders are even less obvious. For example, someone can be forgotten for various reasons such as dying young. This upsets the family system, which tries to restore order by having someone else in the system represent the forgotten one. If, for example, a brother represents an uncle who died while still a child, then he has two irreconcilable roles; the role of the uncle and the role of the brother. While everyone in the family is largely unconscious of this, it causes confusion and difficulties within the family system. This is called a “systemic entanglement.”

The image is of a river of love flowing through the family members down through the generations, the course of which has commonly become distorted in various ways and with varying degrees of severity. Families can only function harmoniously when each family member has an equally valued place and is respected. So when a family member is forgotten or cut off, this usually has negative consequences for everyone in that family.

Real harmony is then possible as each family member can know, honor and appreciate the fact that they are part of a bigger unit and when each family member is acknowledged and given their appropriate place. When individuals try to make things better without regard for the whole family system, it is usually doomed to fail. A great effort may cause things to improve for a little while; e.g. better communication with a sibling. However when the systemic entanglements are not dealt with, they continue to make things difficult. So the communication problems may return with the brother, or the improved communication there may cause difficulties between other members of the family.

Constellations offer us the hope that a solution that benefits everyone in the family is possible. A constellation allows participants to see the underlying dynamics of problems and to start exploring them creatively. Thus people’s perceptions change. They develop a new understanding of where their problems come from, and of what will help to resolve them.

Reprinted here with the kind permission of Dr. Chris Walsh.

This and other of his articles may be found at www.constellationflow.com.

Phenomenology

Phenomenology can be loosely interpreted as being a technique of acknowledging what is, without preconception or prejudice. The stance of the therapist or facilitator is to interpret as little as possible while accepting the inner subjective experiences of the representatives as reported. The therapist or facilitator makes use of their observations, (i.e. spatial, affective, kinesthetic), to assist movement toward a resolution.

The Knowing Field

HandsSometimes referred to as the Informing Field or the Informational Field, the following is a quote from Jane Peterson’s Human Systems Institute website, “In constellations we are confronted with the phenomenon of representatives having access to knowledge or awareness that actually belongs to the people they are representing. In other words, the representatives are aware of feelings and relationships of someone they don’t know.”

The representative seems to connect with the “field” of the client’s internally felt system. Representative can also come into contact with the system’s information. What we have seen consistently in this work is that complete strangers, without any training whatsoever, are able to step in as a representative and begin to perceive the physical, emotional and knowing states of the one they are representing. They seem to be able to accurately tap into information and feelings that could not be otherwise known, guessed at, or assumed about the client’s family system or relationships.

GoldLine

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Constellation experiences to meet individual and group needs visit our Consulting page.