Constellations for Families of Children with Severe Challenges

By Mary Rentschler, M.Ed.

Our deepest wish is that we and our children thrive and that our families be filled with love and joy. When instead a child experiences illness, failure and conflict, we want to know why. Heavy metal toxicity? Allergies? Dysfunctional family? German psychoanalyst 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.

Why Is The Past So Important?

Nothing is more important to a child than belonging. Sometimes, however, our way of belonging is to suffer like those who came before us. A child may become “entangled” in the difficult fate of a past family member, and unconsciously draw unhappiness, failure, addiction or illness into his own life. The purpose of a family constellation is to reveal that hidden dynamic and point the way toward resolution.

How Do Constellations Relate To Life Issues?

Parents of children 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 4 levels. Family Constellations address the 4th (intuitive) level, an area previously ignored by more familiar interventions. Many practitioners acknowledge this and incorporate constellation work into their practices. Symptoms that are secondary to mercury toxicity often co-exist with a heightened sensitivity to energetic phenomena. In such cases the presence of unhealed trans-generational issues in the family energy field can compound any illness. Dr. Klinghardt recommends two or three sessions of Family Constellation work to free up the system to release more toxins. Then suddenly other interventions may become more effective.

How Do Family Constellations Involving Children Work?

Family Constellations usually take place in groups. Children younger than late teenage years do not need to be present, as an adult family member can present the issue. After a brief interview with the facilitator, a parent or relative with a concern about a child chooses representatives for the child and relevant family members from the circle of participants. S/he positions them in a way that seems right and sits down to watch. 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” mysteriously present in the room. Facilitators refer to this as the “knowing field.” Through observations, questions, trial statements and movements, the facilitator and client come to see the issue in a new way. A resolution may emerge that enables the child to break his/her connection with difficulties in the family’s past. A constellation lasts from 10 or 15 minutes to over an hour. As hidden dynamics become clear and movements of reconciliation and peace arise, the genuine love and strength in a family can begin to flow in a healthy way. Families who have participated in constellations speak of them as beautiful and life changing.

An Example:

The family history of a boy with autism was full of turmoil and pain on both sides. His father was preoccupied with his own mother’s tragic story. The boy’s mother, an immigrant whose family had experienced political exile, felt rootless in America. In addition, their decision to abort a previous child lacked healthy closure. As the constellation unfolded, the body language of the boy’s representative showed his ties to those issues. His intense eye contact with the representative of the aborted child was striking. To lighten the burden on their son, the father needed to become less involved with his mother and more present in his current family. The mother needed to develop respect for and roots in her new country, and together they needed to honor the soul of the aborted child by creating a place for it in their hearts. When they accomplished this with ritualized words and gestures, the boy’s representative breathed an audible sigh of relief.


Trans-generational traumas predispose us to illness. Misfortune or unresolved conflict in our ancestry can create disturbances in the family field, which filter down into the psyche, nervous system and metabolic functioning. Children with health issues are particularly sensitive to such disturbances. Often therapy and biomedical interventions succeed only after a healing family constellation with an experienced facilitator. Fortunately it is never too late to heal wounds from the past. Constellation work is unique in that any living family member can do this intervention for the benefit of all.

[A version of this article was originally published in spring 2006 in New Developments, the quarterly journal of Development Delay Resources.]


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