What are Family Constellations?

By Susanne Hazen and Josianne Zwart (Hey Joos! Virtual assistant & projectmanager)

Over the past months, I have already shared a lot about family constellations and Systemic Ritual. In this blog, it is time to find out what family constellations actually are and where this form of alternative psychotherapy comes from. I will go into more detail on this in the coming months.

A family is a system
You, as a person, are part of a family – a system – through biological, legal, affectionate, geographical and historical ties.

According to the founders of systemic therapy, human problems are problems that arise between people who are members of this system. The underlying idea is that if one of the members of a system (a family or partner relationship, for example) has a problem, the entire system is disrupted. The other way around: the system can help an individual by strengthening that system in which he or she lives.


What is the origin?
The method of family constellations – based on other systemically oriented methods – was developed in Western Europe by the German Bert Hellinger. His working method is so-called systemic work:

By setting up someone’s system of origin, you can recognize, acknowledge and possibly eliminate relationships between family members that are not immediately visible. You can also identify, acknowledge and eliminate possible bottlenecks.

So what is a family constellation?
A family constellation is a therapeutic session in which a participant brings in an issue that he or she wants to get clarity on. Such an issue often originates in hidden dynamics that play a role between various family members of the person who raises the issue. During a constellation, other participants are selected as ‘representatives’, but more about that in another blog. The questioning participant places the representatives on certain spots in the room. Those spots are chosen in relation to the other representatives and the questioning participant. He/she is partly helped by the facilitator – the supervisor of the constellation.

The representatives are questioned about their feelings and attitudes towards each other and the situation. In this way, the mutual relationships and unconscious processes that play a part between people are made visible.

For example, entanglements (often from previous generations) that have led to stagnation in the participant’s current life come to light. These are often unprocessed feelings as a result of unpleasant events such as the young death of a parent or child, a war experience or the divorce between parents. Children who are born later, can unconsciously and unintentionally take on those unprocessed feelings, causing them to be out of balance.

In this context, people sometimes talk about family soul, family consciousness or family karma. A constellation makes visible what is happening in a family soul.

What happens during a family constellation?
During a family constellation, representatives are physically placed on a certain spot in the room, but more happens during such a constellation:

  • Relationships and processes are made visible.
  • The participants look for the origin of the problem, by searching for the individuals from previous generations who had every reason to be anxious, sad or angry.
  • A new, more harmonious balance is created.

“I feel lighter”
You restore balance through ritual sentences and/or actions. After a constellation, the person asking the question can feel the effect for years to come. The problem he came up with might disappear. This can even affect the family members who are unaware of the setup: family members have suddenly contacted again, or contact between them goes smoother.

Tip: Another self – Netflix series
To find out more about this in a visual and compelling way, I recommend the Netflix series Another Self: This Turkish series follows three women and their partners. The reason for the journey they make is the diagnosis of a serious illness with one of them. During the journey, they are introduced to family constellations. They are confronted with unresolved trauma from their family history, including murder, secrets, migrations and forbidden loves. Through systemic constellation work, it becomes clear how their family histories have influenced their lives. The series shows (with the right dose of drama and romance) how constellations can support you in finding yourself. Watch the series here.


Published by Susanne Hazen

Drs. Susanne Hazen is in 1988 afgestudeerd aan de Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht in Psychologie . Na deze opleiding is ze gaan werken in het welzijnswerk. In 2001 is ze eveneens afgestudeerd aan de toenmalige Academie voor Natuurgeneeskunde Hilversum. In 2002 is ze gestart met haar eigen praktijk. Ze doceert sinds 2002 Psychologie / Therapeutische Vorming aan de diverse opleidingen in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). In de jaren 2004 en 2005 volgde ze de opleiding Familieopstellingen bij Harrie de Kruijff en ontving in juni 2005 het diploma. Sinds 2003 verdiept ze zich in het Sjamanistisch werk en heeft diverse trainingen gevolgd bij Daan van Kampenhout in Nederland en Zwitserland. In 2011 heeft ze de tweejarige training “Systemic Ritual®” afgerond. Wenst u meer informatie – zie haar profiel op LinkedIn.

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