Constellations or systematic layouts or systemic solutions are a process work methodology using a dynamic spatial image. It is used to map the current state of the system or to find the best possible solution in therapy, coaching and psychological counseling, as well as in pedagogy, law and many other areas. The system can be, for example, a person, a relationship, a family, an organization at any level or a landscape.
Family constellations are a type of therapy based on the idea that problems come through generations and cause stress here and now. By examining our feelings and family memories, we can break out of the family patterns that cause suffering. Working through family constellations helps to find the causes of problems and solve them.
Alfred Adler was the first to use the term “family constellation” to refer to family ties and a sense of belonging. Classical family constellations were founded by philosopher, theologian and psychotherapist Bert Hellinger between 1975 and 1990. He developed this form of therapy by combining his previous work in therapies with his own life experiences.The traumas of previous generations of the family system affect today’s problems and difficulties, even if the sufferers are now unaware of the original event. Hellinger called systemic entanglement links between current and past problems that are not due to direct personal experience and that occur when unresolved trauma has hit the family through events such as murder, suicide, maternal death, early death of a parent or sister, war, as a result of a natural disaster, emigration or ill-treatment. Psychiatrist Iván Böszörményi-Nagy called the phenomenon “invisible loyalty”.
The philosophical orientation of family constellations was derived through the integration of elements of existential phenomenology, therapy of family systems, and ancient mysticism. Phenomenological kinship can be traced through the philosophers Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Their perspective opens up the perception of existential phenomenology to the full panorama of human experience and seeks to grasp meaning and feeling.Family constellations take their form from the psychology of the family system. Influencers of this movement include the founder of psychodrama Jacob Moreno; Iván Böszörményi-Nagy, pioneer of intergenerational systemic thinking; Milton Erickson, pioneer of short therapy and hypnotherapy; Eric Berne, who invented the concept of life scripts; and Virginia Satir, who developed family sculpture, the forerunner of systemic constellations. Over the past decade, practitioners around the world have made progress in using this process.
Bert Hellinger’s concepts seem to be a mere natural continuation of the work of several generations of Satir, part of the Milan group, and the brevity and intensity of many strategic therapies. However, a closer examination reveals the heightened spirituality of his work. This may be Hellinger’s early influence as a Catholic priest, his many years as a Zulu missionary, or his great love for the philosophical teachings of the Chinese philosopher Kung Tse (Confucius). All these influences are combined in a way that makes Hellinger’s work unique. Of particular importance is the difference in traditional Zulu attitudes between parents and ancestors and those of Europeans in general. Heidegger postulated that being human is finding oneself in a world that has no clear logical, ontological, or moral structure. In Zulu culture, Hellinger found the confidence and balance that were the hallmarks of Heidegger’s elusive authentic Self. The traditional Zulu people lived and operated in a religious world centered on their ancestors. They are seen as positive, constructive and creative performances. The connection with ancestors is a central element of the constellation process.
The roots of the constellation are considered as:
1) Based on classical psychotherapies and research such as family therapy;
2) Shamanism (African influences when Hellinger worked for the tribes of the Selians, experiencing a systemic way of thinking about the family and traditions and its effects);
3) Christianity – the acceptance of the universe beyond science.
The precursors and influencers of the constellation method are:
– Sigmund Freud, who spoke of the memory of previous generations and on the collective memory of mankind;
– Carl Jung defined the term “collective subconscious”;
– Among psychoanalysts, they continued to address issues of collective subconsciousness, e.g. Francoise Dolto and Nicolas Abraham;
Neo-Freudian theories caused a fundamental shift in the field of psychology from the observation of internal psychic factors to the study of interpersonal phenomena and their social contexts. In the middle of the 20th century, ideas emerged that looked at the family as a system and found that their background was important for understanding a person;
– A neo-Freudian group of Harry Stack Sullivan, Eric Fromm, Karen Horney and Clara Thompson became the forerunner of family therapy;
– Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick, Jay Haley, John Weakland and others founded an influential communication theory based on the ideas of Gregory Bateson, a well-known anthropologist at the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute (MRI), and the institute later became a mecca for family therapy;
– The original idea of the concept of loyalty used in constellations comes from Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy’s contextual therapy;
– Psychodramatist Anne Ancelin Schützenberger dealt with the issue of recurring destinies across generations. She used both genograms and psychodrama as tools;
– The German psychiatrist Thea Schönfelder started to place assistants (representatives) in the psychodrama on the field with little prior information and without practicing roles.
The strength of the constellations lies in the following:
- Relying on systems theory
- Interpretation of the spatial relations between the elements of the constellation
- Use of solving sentences as an intervention technique
- Based on the perceptions, emotions and thoughts of people who replace the elements of work (so-called substitute cognition).