Family Constellation Therapy
What is family constellation therapy?
Family constellation therapy was developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist. After providing years of psychological therapy, Hellinger continually noted the impact of underlying family connections on the health and well-being of his patients. In many cases these family bonds would be the root of overlying emotional and psychological disturbances (and oftentimes impacting physical health, too). He found that by helping his patients identify and address such relationships, profound healing could be achieved in cases that were otherwise resistant to treatment.
Why is the family constellation (family network) important?
Our blood relatives are the human beings with whom we have the strongest core connection. This is because we share DNA, which not only links us via physical characteristics but also via shared traits in the realms of the emotions, the mind, and beyond (the best example of “beyond” that I can describe from experience is the intense bond of love and devotion a parent has for his child). As such a central theme in family constellation work is that families have incredibly strong feelings of love, loyalty, and devotion, which cannot be altered on a deep level (subconscious level). Regardless of what happens in life, this underlying connection cannot be shaken – to the extent that it can influence behaviours and tendencies. Before reading the following example of this, please note that this is strictly based on the years of observation of Hellinger and the ongoing observations of his many generations of students; Hellinger himself frequently said that his work didn’t always make sense to his critical mind, but the results from basing his therapy on these principles led to consistent positive results.
A father is emotionally absent for his daughter, but fortunately the mother is very loving and nurturing. The daughter grows into a loving woman (likely thanks to her mother) and has a family of her own, but she continually puts work and other responsibilities above spending time with her own children and can’t break the habit. In this case, on a subconscious level she is honouring her emotionally absent father by “being like him” (one of the possible common core themes in family constellation work) and being absent for her own family. Unbeknownst to her this is due to her deep bond with her father, which is why she can’t seem to break the pattern. Please read on to see how this would be resolved.
What does family constellation therapy entail?
The first step is to generate a genogram (“family tree”) of all blood family members, typically back to the generation of grandparents. In traditional family constellation work the genogram is then worked on in a group setting where members of the group are led by the therapist to act as surrogates for the members of the patient’s family. I follow a different approach in my practice, influenced by the family constellation work of Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, MD.
In my practice, the family constellation therapy is done in-office without a group. Using the genogram as a guide, I use occipital drop reflex testing (similar to muscle testing/applied kinesiology) to determine which relationships require healing. I further use the testing technique to determine in what capacity healing is required. Finally, using the underlying principles of family constellation therapy and confirming with the occipital drop testing, I guide the patient in addressing and resolving the imbalance in the relationship.
Taking the daughter from the above example, in her case the relationship with her father would be identified. Further testing would reveal that the daughter was carrying out the family constellation theme of “I am trying to be like you to honour you”. After talking to the daughter the dynamic of their past relationship would be brought out in the office (as described above) and we would begin the healing work. The healing work involves acknowledging the dynamic in question and then stating what the proper dynamic should be – the healing work itself is very simple in this regard, and is finished in-office. In this case, I would lead the daughter to say something like:
“Father, I love you. Thank you for the gifts you have given me (e.g. gift of life, talents, positive attributes, etc.). When I was little we didn’t have a strong emotional relationship. That makes me sad, but I understand that you are who you are. I am your daughter and you are my father, but we are not the same person. You are you, and I am I. I do not need to be like you in this way. I do not need to be absent for my family. I love you and honour you and respect you.”
Typically after this type of healing work, some type of shift is experienced. Sometimes this feels like a subtle pull inside, sometimes there is a strong sense of “what we just did was very true”, sometimes there is emotional release of tears, sadness or anger…each experience is different.
How many treatments are required?
Generally 2-4 sessions are required to run through all relationships that require healing. Between 2 and 5 relationships are addressed in each sessions (determined by occipital testing). Sometimes initial sessions are spaced one to two weeks apart, sometimes months apart (i.e. as the underlying healing is given time to “set in”).
When is family constellation therapy indicated?
It is indicated if you have a family! In all seriousness, it is indicated for everyone as we all have family healing to do, but the therapy is primarily recommended for:
- depression, anxiety, guilt, social phobias
- habits, unwanted thought patterns, unwanted behavioural patterns
- psychological disorders (eating disorders, bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.)
- persisting or recurring physical health concerns
- feeling “stuck” in ones state of personal growth or health
- severe disease processes (cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, chronic health concerns)
- new parents, or parents planning to conceive soon (i.e. to reduce forming unwanted family tendencies in their children)