Systemic Constellations
The Systemic Constellation process is a trans-generational, phenomenological, therapeutic intervention with roots in family systems therapy (Psychodrama
Psychodrama is a method of psychotherapy in which clients utilize spontaneous dramatization, role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives. Developed by Jacob L. Moreno, M.D. psychodrama includes elements of theater, often conducted on a stage where...

 of Jacob Moreno
Jacob L. Moreno
Jacob Levy Moreno was a Jewish Romanian-born Austrian-American leading psychiatrist and psychosociologist, thinker and educator, the founder of psychodrama, and the foremost pioneer of group psychotherapy...

, Virginia Satir
Virginia Satir
Virginia Satir was an American author and psychotherapist, known especially for her approach to family therapy and her work with Systemic Constellations...

, Iván Böszörményi-Nagy
Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy
Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy was a Hungarian-American psychiatrist and one of the founders of the field of family therapy. He emigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1950....

), existential-phenomenology
Phenomenology (psychology)
Phenomenology is an approach to psychological subject matter that has its roots in the philosophical work of Edmund Husserl. Early phenomenologists such as Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty conducted their own psychological investigations in the early 20th century...

There are some famous people named Brentano or von Brentano:* Antonie Brentano* August Brentano, bookseller* Bernard von Brentano, novelist* Christian Brentano* Clemens Brentano, poet and novelist, brother of Bettina von Arnim There are some famous people named Brentano or von Brentano:* Antonie...

, Husserl, Heidegger), and the ancestor reverence of the South African Zulus. The Systemic Constellation process is sanctioned by family therapy associations in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and is being integrated by thousands of licensed practitioners worldwide. The work is also beginning to become known in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


A Constellation can serve as an illuminating adjunct process within a conventional course of psychotherapy. While it is rooted in the psychotherapeutic tradition, the method is distinguished from conventional psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is a general term referring to any form of therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group...

 in that, 1) the client hardly speaks; 2) its primary aim is to identify and release deep patterns embedded within the family system, not to explore or process narrative, cognitive or emotional content.

Along time several people have been involved in the development of the process; however, the German-born Bert Hellinger
Bert Hellinger
The German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger is associated with a therapeutic method best known as Family Constellations and Systemic Constellations. In recent years, his work has evolved beyond these formats into what he now calls Movements of the Spirit-Mind...

 (b. 1925) was the person who most contributed to make it known after the publication of his book Love's hidden symmetry .

The procedure described below represents a typical format.

Procedure of Systemic Constellations

Systemic Constellations have applications for family, organizational, community, and social systems. The procedure below describes the most widely used subset of Systemic Constellations called Family Constellations in a group setting.

A group of participants (10–30), led by a trained facilitator, sit in a circle. One participant (client or seeker) is selected to work on a personal issue. The others either serve as “representatives” or actively contribute by observing with concentration.

The facilitator asks, “What is your issue?” The issue may be extreme: “Two years ago my husband and child were killed in an accident. I’m trying to learn how to live with that.” It may appear to be more commonplace, such as a college student who reports, “I’m 21 years old and have been diagnosed with clinical depression.”

The facilitator asks for information about the family of origin, looking for traumatic events from the past that may have systemic resonance. Such events include premature deaths (including aborted children, murders, suicide, and casualties of war) and the denial of membership in the family system of those who have a right to belong (including a disabled child who was institutionalized, a baby given up for adoption, a disappeared father, or a homosexual or apostate who was banished from the family). The client does not present narrative or commentary.

Next, the facilitator asks the client to select group members to represent members of the family or symbolic elements of the issue itself. In the first case cited above, the facilitator began with the client and her deceased husband and child; in the second case, the client and a representative for depression.

The client places each representative in the Constellation space. Once the representatives are positioned, the client sits and observes. The representatives stand with their arms at their sides without moving or talking. They are not role-playing. Instead, they use their bodies and intuition to perceive how it feels to be the person or element they represent. For several minutes the scene is one of stillness and silence while the facilitator observes and waits.

Participants standing in this manner experience what is called “representative perception.” This refers to the phenomenon of perceiving emotions and body sensations that are meaningful in relation to the individuals they represent.

The facilitator may inquire of the representatives, “How are you feeling?” Sometimes they are placid and without emotion. Other times they report strong emotions or physical sensations. The reports are subjective and contain some aspect of personal projection. However, the intermixing of representative perception with subjective personal projections does not contaminate the process as a whole.

Often, what emerges is that a member of the current family is unconsciously expressing emotions and behaviors that descended from a previous generation. The living family member‘s problematic behavior or circumstance is a repetition of—or compensation for—a trauma that occurred in the past. This phenomenon was first identified by Iván Böszörményi-Nagy
Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy
Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy was a Hungarian-American psychiatrist and one of the founders of the field of family therapy. He emigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1950....

, who called them Invisible Loyalties.

The facilitator slowly works with this three-dimensional portrait of the family. First, the invisible loyalty comes into clear view. In the case of the young woman with depression, it was the client’s invisible loyalty to the grief of her deceased grandmother.

Next, the facilitator seeks a healing resolution. In the case above, the representatives for the client and grandmother faced a third representative who symbolized the object of the grandmother’s undying grief. When the client felt herself in the presence of her beloved grandmother, she felt a profound release. Generally, representatives feel such relief when the invisible loyalty is perceived, acknowledged, and respected.

The final step is for the facilitator to suggest one or two healing sentences to be spoken aloud or inwardly. In this case, the healing sentence was for the representative of the grandmother to say to the client, “Go live!”

Afterward, the insights are not processed in dialog with the facilitator. Clients who are in an ongoing course of psychotherapy can integrate these insights with their therapists.

There is a wealth of anecdotal and case study reports that, over time, the new image of the family system—with belonging, balance and order restored—gradually erodes the archaic image that underlies the impulse for emotional suffering and destructive behaviors . Rigorous research is needed to test objectively the longitudinal outcomes of clients‘ experiences with this method.


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