What in the World is a Family Constellation?

By Mary Rentschler

Our deepest wish is that we and our loved ones thrive and that our families be filled with love and joy. When instead we experience ilness, failure and conflict, we want to know why. Allergies? Dysfunctional family? Bad genes? German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger has a different answer. His Family Constellations begin with the idea that instead of originating in an individual‘s biographical history from birth to the present, dysfunction and suffering often relate to painful events in the family‘s past. One of the most profound therapies in Europe today, Family Constellation work is now available in the U.S.

In his work with several thousand families, Bert Hellinger uncovered what he calls age-old “Orders of Love ” deeply embedded in the unconscious of family groups. disturbances in these orders, and in the sense of belonging that is essential for a sense of well-being, oftenmanifest in dysfunctional patterns that reappear in a family system generation after generation. Sometimes our way of belonging is to suffer like those who came before us. One may become “entangled” in the difficult fate of an ancestor and unconsciously draw unhappiness, failure, addiction or illness into one‘s own life. The purpose of a family constellation is to reveal the hidden dynamic of such a situation and point the way toward resolution.

An individual wishing to work on an issue chooses representatives for various members of his/her family from among the circle of participants at a Family Constellations workshop. S/he positions them spatially in a way that seems right. In a short time the representatives begin to experience physical sensations, emotions or urges belonging not to themselves but to the family members they represent. It is as though they have become antennae, receiving information from a “family soul” that is mysteriously present in the room. Through questions, observations, trial statements and repositioning, the facilitator and client come to see the situation in a new way and create a resolution picture that enables the client to break his/her identification with the ancestor‘s difficult fate.

Individuals with severe challenges know all too well how the issues they confront daily constitute a particularly difficult fate for themselves and their families. According to Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, both illness and healing occur at all five levels (physical, energetic, mental-emotional, intuitive, and spiritual) of his model of health. Any disturbance in the physical realm manifests also, in another form, on the other four levels. Family Constallations address the fourth (intuitive) level, an area previousl ignored by more familiar interventions. Many practitioners now acknowledge this and incorporate constellation work into their practices.

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