The Constellations Process

by Diane Hetherington

Background and History

The Bert Hellinger approach for systemic solutions with families and organizations has rapidly caught worldwide interest. Now in more than 25 countries consultants and practitioners of family and organization constellations are working with the Hellinger Approach.

Hellinger acknowledges several important influences on his life and work: his parents, whose faith immunized him against accepting Hitler’s National Socialism; his 20 years as a priest, particularly as a missionary to the Zulu; and his participation in interracial, ecumenical training in group dynamics led by Anglican clergy. After leaving the priesthood he studied psychoanalysis, and eventually developed an interest in Gestalt Therapy and Transactional Analysis. In his later family therapy training he encountered the family constellations that have become the hallmark of his approach. His observations and insights about human entanglements and their resolution have touched the lives of thousands throughout the world.

Those familiar with the full range of psychotherapies will recognize in this approach a unique integration of diverse elements. In the gathering of these powerful modalities he has created a uniquely compelling healing approach. He has learned specific tools from a variety of resources, however the overarching strength of this work comes from the refined skill of listening to the authority of one’s own soul. Seeing what is as opposed to blindly accepting what is being said—no matter by whom—is the linchpin of this work of healing for individuals, communities, and organizations.

What is a Constellation?

A constellation is a unique lens for “seeing” organization or systemic issues. A constellation provides a fast and efficient opportunity of looking at a particular situation/system in a way that allows previously hidden dynamics to surface.

The power of this work is that we bring issues/pictures to the consciousness of clients and leave them to work with them. We look at patterns individuals bring to organizations as well as the relational and structural aspects of their situations.

Systemic constellations last about 30-40 minutes and work best with issues showing up in the present environment. Past situations tend to not have enough “heat.” A constellation is a representation of the client’s construct of reality.

The Field

The concept of the zero point field suggests that space is not empty. It has information conserved within it about everything that has ever happened in life, on earth and in the cosmos. This zero point field is holographic in the sense that all the information is available at all times in any part of it. We need only hold the space for this already existing intelligence to emerge. A constellation is just such a space.

Sequence of the Constellation

The interview. What is the client’s essential question? Is it a systemic one? Does it have strength? Can the client state the problem/issue in three sentences? More words equals less strength. For an effective systemic constellation, the client must have a serious issue, be part of a relevant system, have a chance to be part of the solution and be capable of being part of the solution.

Constellation set-up. The constellator suggests the appropriate elements to the client who arranges the representatives in spatial relationship to each other according to his/her “inner picture.”

Acknowledge What Is. Take in the current situation as it has been set up.

Explore Options. What needs to be preserved? What changes lead to more balance/ satisfaction?

Discover a Possible Solution. Are all members of the system in the optimum place for them and the whole—in the position that allows both the individuals and the system as a whole to function at their best?

Some Systems Principles

1. Respect. What is must be allowed to be. The constellator must notice her own thinking. If she thinks the client cannot handle what happened, what happens? A good constellator asks herself whether the client is strengthened or weakened by her thinking. She stands behind, looks for solutions and believes that the client has resources within to resolve the situation.

2. Right to belong. Everyone in the system has a right to his/her place. An equal right to belong is unconditional in families. In an organization it depends on competence and may be time limited, but everyone currently employed has a right. This gives a sense of security and supports the stability of the organization. Individuals who fear being fired can’t focus on their work.

3. Orders/hierarchy. The system requires certain priorities and orders of precedence to be observed. In a family order relates to age, birth order, and relationship; in an organization - length of service, qualification, position, technical competency, stake in the system). The hierarchy in an organization—official or hidden—exists and can be a powerful force. For example, a “new” leader must acknowledge and appreciate what has been done before.

4. Balance of giving and taking. “Everyone has an opportunity for giving and taking—between individuals, between individuals and the system, and between different parts of the system.” Either too much altruism (giving) or too much exploitation (taking) creates an imbalance in the system. Failure to acknowledge the contributions of someone who is leaving or retiring has consequences for the system.


Constellation workshops usually involve eight or more people who wish to explore a deeply felt issue in a confidential, challenging, and creative environment. Issue holders become ‘clients’ when they present a burning organizational or social dilemma and they invite other participants to represent certain colleagues or groups such as customers, government departments, refugees, a nation … even more ‘abstract’ elements such as the stock exchange, a belief system or the future can be represented.

People sit in a circle for the duration of the workshop. As the representatives are named they take a place in the center of the circle. By a process that is not fully understood, representatives seem able to feel profoundly and report accurately the experience of those they are representing. Working with representatives who have no knowledge or stake in the outcome keeps the constellation pure. Because they are not familiar with the “story” their perspective is less contaminated than that of the client.

Constellations enable us to work sensitively and effectively with problematic and sensitive issues in our personal lives and within organizations. This process is different because it is systemic. Rather than artificially freeze-framing issues, the constellating process draws on what might be called ‘the embedded intelligence’ of a situation. By looking at where people or things stand in relation to other people or things, one gets a physical image that speaks for itself. It shows ways in which issues are inter-related and reveals the underlying dynamics of a situation in ways that bring fresh and profound perspectives and breakthrough results.

Phenomenological Approach

A scientific approach is the work of the mind. A phenomenological approach engages the intuition in a moment-to-moment unfolding. Each piece of information or response from the system leads to the next inquiry or exploration. The facilitator does not seek a particular outcome; each movement is directed by the one that precedes it.

As every cell in a body contains information about the whole body, so a member of an organization or a family contains information at the deep level of consciousness about the system as a whole and its history.

Constellator Diane Hetherington, MCC

Diane has over 25 years as an organizational development (OD) consultant and executive coach. She has facilitated and studied family and organizational constellations intensely over the last several years. She completed a year long program (21 days) with the Hellinger Institute of DC, has attended a six day conference in Family Constellations in Germany, a six day conference on Organizational Constellations in The Netherlands, and many additional conferences with the European “masters”. She has completed an 18-month program in Organization Systems (30 days) with the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.

Diane is on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University MBA in OD program. Her favorite course focuses on the self as instrument of change. She also teaches Executive Coaching at Hopkins and is affiliated with the Success Unlimited Network, LLC as a coach trainer and mentor.

Diane is a founding partner of The Systemic Constellations Group, LLC currently offering monthly family constellations workshops in Washington DC. She facilitates organization constellations workshops and uses The Constellations Process with individual clients.

Copyright 2007 Diane Hetherington

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