Every now and then there are situations that mis-represents this work. The following is an example of this:
In the belief that cancer may have at its root cause mental and emotional reasons, I explored a lot of psycho-spiritual forms of healing.
One of these was Family Constellations therapy. This post is a health warning for anyone new to Family Constellations therapy – it can be a psychologically-damaging form of therapy in the hands of the wrong practitioner.
The founder of Family Constellations is Bert Hellinger who was a priest and psychologist. He believed that when unresolved trauma has afflicted a family in previous generations, this can give rise to present or past problems. These include issues such as murder, abortion, suicide, death of a mother in childbirth, early death of a parent or sibling, war, natural disaster, emigration, or abuse.
During a Family Constellations workshop, each member explores a personal issue. The facilitator selects a member of the group to represent the issue. Other members of the group may be chosen to represent family members or abstractions such as Life and Death. The member whose issue is being worked on, orients these representatives in relation to each other, according to what feels right to him. He then sits down and watches what unfolds between each representative.
What unfolds is a most bizarre and magical experience – often the representatives will re-orient themselves physically, or interact with each other in a way that reveals hidden aspects of the issue, or the dynamics between the members. Sometimes they will move or say or feel things that can only have been felt by someone who was part of the family whose issue is being worked on.
Healing is achieved when each member’s needs and places in the family hierarchy are acknowledged, either through re-positioning, or verbal phrases.
My father had died of colon cancer, and I wondered how much of the energetic of cancer could be inherited through trauma incurred in previous generations.
The first few constellations dealt with my father – I was always close to him, and the family constellations seemed to imply that I wanted to be with him. In yet another, I had a kind of ceremony with a representative of the Life Force – I found that very healing. I also had sessions in which I dealt with mother-daughter issues, and grandmother relationship as well as family wartime atrocities. So as you can see, I went deeply into Family Constellations, and so this review is not based on a one-off, but accumulated experiences.
I would say that Family Constellations can be very profound and transforming. But it is also very tiring – I found that I took to it very easily and had a talent for it. But the week after I was physically and mentally bone tired – I didn’t have sufficient boundaries to filter out the energies of the other people I was working with. For example, I had to represent a mother who died in a concentration camp. For me, while it wasn’t a full death experience, I did feel the deep love for the son I had left behind, and the feeling of not being able to breathe properly – it turned out the mother had died of a respiratory illness.
And Family Constellations did not cure me of the emotional or spiritual or karmic causes of cancer.
So if you are seeking a cure, don’t expect Family Constellation work to be a magic wand. It will throw up more issues than you started out with especially if you are dealing with life-and-death issues.
And finally, Family Constellations can be a dangerous tool.
I attended a workshop run by Judith Hemming. It was the most damaging Family Constellation workshop I’ve ever participated in.
In it, I was shown that no matter what method I used, whether allopathic or complementary, the impetus was towards death. Worse, the constellations was ended at that point by the facilitator who then proceeded to discuss my issue in front of the whole group: “Look at George Best … he was given a new liver, yet he chose to drink himself to death. Look at your father … he was given six months to live and died. You cannot interfere with the path of the soul.”
You can imagine how devastated and suicidal I was by that one workshop. I had participants coming up to me and virtually willing me towards death by their condolences. I had others who said that I shouldn’t take any notice of what the facilitator had said. I was left feeling I had no hope of living, that no matter what I did, I was doomed to die of cancer. I was left to go home in a state of extreme distress and doubt and failure. I wonder why I didn’t throw myself under a train that evening. It took me over six months of counseling to get over that one workshop, run by an irresponsible and insensitive facilitator – I wonder how she would have felt, had she had cancer and been given the same prognosis.
There are too many therapists out there with God complexes and when you are vulnerable, it is easy to place yourself in their hands, in the hope of a cure. Only God knows whether you will live or die. No human should have the permission to do so.
As cancer patients, we are already battered and bruised by the diagnosis and treatments. We should therefore learn to take care of ourselves, and beware of the BS that’s out there, people who think they have the answers, who think they know better than us and who try to make us doubt our inner selves. Their job should be to strengthen, not to weaken! If in any doubt: ask yourself the question – is this treatment/practitioner strengthening me or weakening me?
For this reason, if you are fragile, vulnerable and open to suggestion, do not go to Family Constellation workshops – they should carry a health warning that they can be hazardous to life.
If this article had been written as an opinion based around the facilitator and not the work, it would have been more concise...
In response to this article...
The philosophical orientation of Family Constellations were derived through an integration of existential phenomenology family systems therapy and elements of indigenous spiritual mysticism.
The phenomenological (2) lineage can be traced through philosophers Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Rather than understanding mind, emotion and consciousness in terms of its constituent parts, existential phenomenology opens perception to the full panorama of human experience and seeks to grasp a sense of meaning. Family Constellations take their form from family systems psychology. Leading figures in this movement whose influence can be recognized include Jacob Moreno, the founder of psychodrama; Iván Böszörményi-Nagy, the pioneer of transgenerational systemic thinking; Milton Erickson, a pioneer of brief therapy and hypnotherapy; Eric Berne who conceived the concept of life scripts; and Virginia Satir, who developed family sculpture, the precursor of Systemic Constellations. In the past decade, further advancements in the use of the process have been innovated by practitioners throughout the world. The process draws from indigenous spiritual mysticism to contribute towards releasing tensions, lightening emotional burdens, and resolving real-world problems. Hellinger lived as a Roman Catholic priest in South Africa for 16 years in the 1950s and 1960s. During these years, he became fluent in the Zulu language, participated in their rituals, and gained an appreciation for their distinct worldview. Of particular importance is the difference between traditional Zulu attitudes toward parents and ancestors and those typically held by Europeans. Heidegger postulated that to be human is to find oneself thrown into a world with no clear logical, ontological, or moral structure. In Zulu culture, Hellinger found a certitude and equanimity that were the hallmarks of Heidegger's elusive authentic Self. The traditional Zulu people lived and acted in a religious world in which the ancestors were the central focal point. The ancestors were regarded as positive, constructive, and creative presences. The connection with ancestors is a central feature of the Constellation process. The term "Family Constellations" was first used by Alfred Adler in a somewhat different context to refer to the phenomenon that each individual belongs to and is bonded in relationship to other members of his or her family system.
Systemic Family Constellation (4) trauma resolution work is an alternative healing technique to modern talk psychotherapy. When deeply imbedded trauma is present within a client’s DNA, talk therapy may not expose the origins of the client’s trauma, which may have originated in a family member as much as 14 generations past. DNA embedded trauma can be inherited from previous generations much like physical expressions such as genetically inherited heart disease. This transference is said to be epigenetic (3) in origin.
The original trauma may have been a physical experience such as an adult or child witnessing a murder or a family member dying by suicide. It may have also manifest when a mother has given up a child for adoption or the death of a child or parent in a family system. The trauma can be a physical self-experience such as an automobile accident or any accident where physical damage to the body has occurred. The trauma may also have been an event in history such as war, migration (especially across oceans), genocide, imprisonment, enslavement, etc.
If this physical trauma is not processed in the individual’s lifetime, it will develop within the cellular memory of that individual. The now embedded trauma, in the DNA, will be passed down to their offspring who will inherit the parent’s trauma epigenetically (3). The child’s expression of this inherited trauma can manifest as emotional issues (depression, anxiety, ADHD, ADD, and so on) or physical issues (too many to list).
The trauma can be addressed through Systemic Family Constellation (4) work with a facilitator who works with the client to address their remembered trauma, if it happened in their lifetime. The miracle of Systemic Family Constellation work is how it can address trauma passed down from past generations. When this is the case, the client does not need to know what the trauma is or how it originated. The facilitator can access information within the morphogenic field when a constellation is set. The origin of the client’s trauma will then be revealed.
An example of how this modality can work:
I witnessed a constellation for a friend who experienced a limp in his left leg from the time he began walking as a child. He did not experience any physical trauma to his leg when he was younger and doctors throughout his life were unable to assess the cause of his limp. He arrived at a point in his life where he wanted to correct his disability and sought out constellation as his only modality to achieve the healing he desired. He had tried a variety healers. He called the constellation and chose participants to represent his various family members suggested by the facilitator. He also chose a representative for himself. The facilitator engaged the morphogenic field (1) and followed the emotional feelings of the representatives, asking pointed questions as the constellation progressed. The facilitator added more representatives as needed as he followed the progress backwards through the generations of the client. He asked enough questions of the representatives to determine that a great – great - great grandfather’s family fought in the civil war. The brother of the client’s ancestor decided to fight for the South which broke the family apart and the brother was dis-owned by the entire family. The Order of Love had been disturbed. The brother lost his left leg in the battle and the family never spoke to him again. During the constellation, the facilitator had the representatives of the brothers face each other and acknowledge they had done the best they knew how and reconciled. There was forgiveness from each side. The representatives did not know the story, but they did ‘feel’ the energy shift and the emotional experience was very real for them. The facilitator asked the client, who was in tears, if this felt right for him. He nodded and the energy that flowed from one representative generation to the next was evident to all who witnessed and participated in this constellation. After the constellation was closed, the facilitator shared the story to the client who agreed to allow the representatives hear what had unfolded. All of the representatives felt the power of the client’s constellation and all experienced some form of trauma relief and healing through the family members they represented. Two weeks passed by and my friend’s limp healed. This is the healing power of Systemic Family Constellation.
Another example of how this modality can work:
When I was training to become a facilitator, I was called up to represent a part of history. The client was a woman whose children, a boy and a girl, began to fight verbally and physically with each other. The two were very close and had been respectful and loving toward one another through their young years. Their mother noticed that the two began to bicker which escalated to outright fighting in a short period of time. The two were about 5 and 7 years old. The mother tried all forms of therapy for her and her children and nothing seemed to be working. She heard about this form of healing and was drawn to do her work. Somehow, she realized this was not about her children. She called in a constellation and the facilitator asked her questions about her family and her husband’s family. She was Jewish, and her husband’s family was from Germany. The origin of the trauma she held went back only a couple of generations. The facilitator set the constellation and I was called to represent Nazi Germany and another participant was called to represent The Holocaust. Two others were called to represent her grandfather (a Holocaust survivor) and her husband’s grandfather (a Nazi officer working in a concentration camp). The facilitator worked the field and ultimately had the two men, representing the grandfathers, acknowledge one another, bow to each other, and accept that they were doing the best they could. (I will say here that this does not excuse this horrible event in history or absolve anyone from any crimes committed. It simply illustrates the power of this work). The woman was in tears and felt the release of the unknown trauma she, AND her husband carried forward. She checked in a week later and her children had stopped attacking each other and peace in her family was restored. I will note here that the client’s husband was never told about what she called in or experienced in her constellation. Talking about this work can, and often does, undermine it’s effectiveness.
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