Bert Hellinger is a German psychologist, psychotherapist, pedagogical theologian and philosopher.
Hellinger was born in 1925. (born Anton Hellinger) in a Catholic family in Germany. At the age of five, B. Hellinger decided that he wanted to become a priest, at the age of ten, his parents sent him to study at the Marianhill Catholic Convent School.
In 1941,the school was closed due to the ruling political regime, Bert moved back to his parents and went to regular school. When Adolf Hitler came to power, Bert Hellinger was seven years old. Due to religious beliefs, National Socialism was not well thought of in the family circle, and 16-year-old Bert joined a small Catholic youth association that was banned at the time. Due to one statement in a job interview, he was declared an enemy of the state.
In 1942 at the age of 17, Bert Hellinger was mobilized into the Wehrmacht Construction Battalion. He survived the French invasion and at the end of 1944 fell prisoner to the Americans in Belgium. A year later, however, he managed to escape from the prison camp.
After returning to Germany, Hellinger contacted the Marianhill Order again, attended a Würzburg seminary, studied philosophy and theology, and became a priest. A year later he was sent to South Africa as a missionary. At the same time, he continued his studies in English and pedagogy at a local university and, after graduation, worked as a teacher and director of a mission school in the Zulu tribe. He was eventually assigned to preside over one hundred and fifty schools in the congregation.
Hellinger lived in South Africa for 16 years. He learned to communicate in Zulu, participated in rituals and gained local recognition. In his work, he constantly saw conflicts based on racial affiliation and religious differences. To solve the problems, the Anglican Church directed psychologists and group dynamics specialists on the spot. In these lessons, B. Hellinger first met with, acquired and subsequently supervised group seminars on group psychotherapy methods. In the mirror of other nations and religions, Hellinger saw himself separated from the world. One supervisor’s question turned out to change thinking and direction: “What is more important to you – people or ideals? Which one would you sacrifice for? ” Hellinger realized that people had lost sight of him and changed his work style after the training.
In 1969 Hellinger was recalled from St. Marienthal to Würzburg, where he instructed psychotherapy groups as a pastor seminary instructor. After some time, however, he found that his knowledge of psychotherapy was lacking, and he began to study psychoanalysis, after which he decided to resign as a clergyman.
In the following years he studied at the Vienna Association for Deep Psychology (Wiener Arbeitskreis für Tiefenpsychologie / Viennese Association for Depth Psychology) with psychoanalysts R. Schindler and J. Shaked. The aforementioned association became the forerunner of the later Austrian Psychoanalytic Society. B. Hellinger graduated from the Munich (Münchner Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Psychoanalyse / Munich Psychoanalytic Training Institute). Upon graduation, he was admitted to the trade association as an active member. Through Ruth Cohen and Hilarion Petzold, she developed an interest in gestalt therapy. During this period, he became acquainted with Fanita English and introduced the work of Eric Bern. Together with his wife Herta, he integrated gestalt therapy, primary therapy with group dynamics and psychoanalysis. His work on script analysis led to the discovery that some scripts work between generations and in family relationships. Also important were Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy’s book Invisible Bonds and the recognition of his hidden loyalties, and the need to balance between giving and taking in families. Hellinger studied family therapy with Ruth McClendon and Leslie Cadis, where she first met with family constellations. “I was very impressed with their work, but I didn’t understand it. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to work systematically. Then I started thinking about the work I had already done and realized, ‘That’s good too. I will not give up until I have truly understood systemic family therapy. So I just continued what I had done. A year later, I rethought it and was surprised to find that I was working systematically. ” His reading of Jay Haley’s article “The Perverted Triangle” led to the discovery of the importance of the family hierarchy. This was followed by additional work in family therapy with Thea Schonfelder, as well as training in Milton Erickson’s hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Frank Farelly’s provocative therapy has had a significant impact, as has maintenance therapy developed by Irena Precop. The most important element he took from NLP was the emphasis on working with resources, not problems. The use of his stories in therapy, of course, deserves respect for Milton Erickson. The first story he told in therapy was “Two Standards of Happiness.” Those familiar with all the options for psychotherapy understand that Hellinger’s contribution is his unique integration of different elements. He does not claim to have discovered anything new, but there is no doubt that he has made a new integration. He has a natural ability to throw himself into a new situation, dive into it and, once he has understood what remains to be learned, move on. Certainly, his early experience indelibly taught him the importance and skill of listening to the authority of his soul — though not very foolproof, it is the only real defense we have against the seduction of false authorities. His demand to see what is opposed to our blind acceptance, combined with unwavering loyalty and faith in our own souls, is the foundation of this work. In an interview with Norbert Linz, Hellinger said: “I am not convinced that constellations always reveal the objective historical truth about the family, but they do make a reliable reference to constructive decisions.” In addition, Hellinger’s method allows for a greater “vision” that goes beyond the surface of the actual phenomenon, they show what is happening in full context and in the fullest sense.