How does a family constellation work?

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

In March, you could already read about family constellations and what they are exactly. In that blog, you read that a family constellation is a therapeutic session in which a participant brings in an issue that he or she wants to gain clarity about. Today I will tell you more about how a family constellation works.

The preliminary talk
This process always starts with a preliminary talk. Someone (‘a client’ or ‘questioner’) comes up with a certain theme or question. During this first conversation, the facilitator helps the client to come to a more toned-down question. Using facts from someone’s family history, the facilitator investigates which family members might be related to the theme.

Step one in a constellation
Family members play an important role in the process. During a constellation, you will not see the client’s real family members but representatives. They do not know the family system of the questioner and can therefore take up a neutral role.

The client places the representatives on a certain spot in the room, which determines their view. But that’s it. The client does not indicate what position the representative should take, how he or she should feel or what movement he or she should make.
Representatives take a moment to ‘land’ on the spot and observe what is happening in their bodies:

  • Do they feel big/small, stable/unsteady?
  • Do they lean forward or backwards?
  • Are the eyes open or closed?
  • What views attract them?
  • Do certain body sensations arise, such as a lump in the throat or a feeling of pressure in the stomach?
  • Do certain feelings come up? And which one?

Step two: the constellation begins
The facilitator supervises the process. The questioner only watches. The exchange between the representatives takes place under the guidance of the facilitator. Once the client has set everyone in place, the facilitator takes the lead. He asks how everyone is doing and what they are observing. This can also be the role of the client; this depends on the question and the client.
A question can be: do the representatives experience a movement impulse? If so, then they may follow that movement. The facilitator keeps an eye on the effect. Do they feel better or worse?
The system is brought into better harmony by moving representatives, bringing in other family members or performing ritual sentences and actions. The constellation is finished when all representatives feel comfortable in their new spots.

The end of the constellation
At the end, the client is often placed within the constellation himself. He/she changes from being a spectator to an active participant. He then experiences the other representatives as family members. The facilitator can enhance the experience even further by saying a few essential sentences, which the client repeats.
A good balance must be found. Some clients only need the insight of the constellation. Others need the full experience.

What happens after a constellation?
A constellation usually does not stop here. There is a small chance that the client will step out of the door and continues as if nothing had happened. The mind quickly starts asking questions after a constellation: “What does this mean? Should I call my mother now?” These thoughts are sometimes so strong that the new image of family relations can be seriously disturbed. The advice is, therefore, not to think or talk about the constellation but to draw it out, for example. The facilitator can also give some homework to continue the constellation as some sort of ritual.
The client will also not immediately be put down as a representative in the next constellation. The questioner first needs to absorb the new image of his/her own constellation.
This also means that after a constellation, there will be no discussion. This could lead to rationalization too quickly. The entire process must land first.

Only a part of reality becomes visible
We can assume that only a part of reality becomes visible in a constellation: that part that the questioner needs concerning the theme introduced. Realize that this reality is not fixed and that it can also change over time. But that reality is also taken seriously, as if nothing else existed at that moment.

I also want to participate in a family constellation
Do you find this interesting, and would you like to experience a family constellation yourself as a representative, or do you have a question you would like to explore? Then sign up for the Hidden Dynamics workshop. In these workshops, we will explore (family) themes using Systemic Ritual and Family Constellations.


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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