Family Constellations, also known as Systemic Constellations and Systemic Family Constellations, is an alternative therapeutic method which draws on elements of family systems therapy, existential phenomenology and Zulu attitudes to family. In a single session, a Family Constellation supposedly attempts to reveal a previously unrecognized systemic dynamic that spans multiple generations in a given family and to resolve the deleterious effects of that dynamic by encouraging the subject to encounter representatives of the past and accept the factual reality of the past.
Family Constellations diverges significantly from conventional forms of cognitive, behaviour and psychodynamic psychotherapy. The method has been described by physicists as quantum quackery, and its founder Bert Hellinger incorporates the pseudoscientific idea ofmorphic resonance into his explanation of it. Positive outcomes from the therapy have been attributed to conventional explanations such as suggestion and empathy.
In Family Constellatons we see that present-day problems and difficulties may be influenced by traumas suffered in previous generations of the family, even if those affected now are unaware of the original event in the past. Hellinger referred to the relation between present and past problems that are not caused by direct personal experience as Systemic entanglements, said to occur when unresolved trauma has afflicted a family through an event such as murder, suicide, death of a mother in childbirth, early death of a parent or sibling, war, natural disaster, emigration, or abuse. The psychiatrist Iván Böszörményi-Nagy referred to this phenomenon as Invisible Loyalties.
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 lineage can be traced through philosophers Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. This perspective stands in contrast to the positivistreductionist orientation of the scientific psychology. 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 ofpsychodrama; 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.