CBT or ACT? Jungian, psycho analytic? Family Systems or Gestalt? Whaaaa, please just help me get better!
Many therapists work with not just one, but a number of modalities. We call it our melting pot, our tool kit if you will. But what actually do they do? In this series I have a cuppa with a counsellor – which is a nifty way of saying I will interview a series of well established, respected mental health professionals – psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and counsellors – I ask them to unpick their favourite modality.
EPISODE ONE – Systemic Family Constellation Therapy
Or Family Constellation Therapy, Constellations or Systemic Constellations. Founded by Bert Hellinger this modality grew popular in the 1990s and today it is the fastest growing modality in the world. In Brazil many families in the family court system have to do a ‘constellation’ as part of their process.
But what it is it?
Often (but not exclusive to) conducted in a group, Constellations shines a lens, not on the story of the client, but the dynamics of a situation. The family system, both in the here and now and in the past, is examined. A session or group (mainly this is conducted in groups) will start in the present moment but quickly move to the family and look into the past actions and events that effected parents, grandparents and further back into the family line. The work has a strong focus on intergenerational patterns and is a deeply transformative. For how this is done See more here.
Let’s get the kettle on and meet Maria Dolenc.
Maria Dolenc is a renowned Psychotherapist who is worked for over 30 years as a Gestalt Therapist, Family Constellation Facilitator. She is also PACFA Supervisor.
Maria, how would you explain Family Systemic Constellation Therapy to someone who has never heard of it?
It’s not easy to explain what happens in a Constellation. However, the best way I find is to say that we need to look at our past in relation to what we are struggling with in our lives now. We may be entangled with something in our history. We could unknowingly be carrying a burden that our ancestors were involved with. Through the process of a Constellation session, we can see what is not ours and leave it where it belongs. In a workshop these burdens that are not ours to carry become more visible. When clients learn (and see it enacted when they let it go) how they only need to carry the things that they need to work on, they report feeling freer.
The work that happens in a group or an individual setting is hard to pin down, particularly for anyone who comes from a talk therapy or science-based background. How would you explain the work, the process and the healing?
People usually turned to talk therapy (including myself) to work through their difficulties – and then life gives us the opportunity to explore a different way with the field of Constellations. There is enough evidence now that Systemic Constellations work reveals past traumas and childhood conditioning. It gives clients a clear way of seeing what is blocking them from living their lives well. There is also evidence of intergenerational trauma being passed down the generations. Constellation work provides a method in the here and now (right in the session) to address this and interrupt the continued passing on this trauma.
Who comes to your groups?
I have been working with Constellations in various treatment centres around the world, for around 20 years. People I work with are dealing with addictions, depression, eating disorders, unresolved traumas and a range of other difficulties. Clients are very often blown away by how accurate Constellations can be in revealing their issues, and it never fails to surprise me how often someone will do a Constellation around their family, and soon afterwards report that an estranged family member has made contact with them. This happens too often to be a mere coincidence and to me, reinforces that we are all connected with our families as well as our ancestors. I truly see that healing the past impacts the present.
How has it shaped your life and what insights can you share?
Ah! Constellation work has shaped my life in many different ways. I do this work because I truly love it, not out of a need to work. Connecting with clients in a real, authentic way and seeing the healing happening is very satisfying. This work also deepens my intuitive self and my trust in the Field or Higher Forces.
For those who have not done this work, in a group setting it does rely on ‘representatives’ in the group to stand in for people’s family members or to represent archetypes, or the soul etc. How do the representatives cope with ‘carrying’ the trauma and not bring this into their day-to-day life?
Constellation work reveals to clients where trauma comes from in their system, and then we do a process where they leave the trauma where it belongs – in the past. This is very important, for it is through this process the representatives are able to step back into their own life and connect with their own being/Soul. They leave the story of this ‘constellation’ behind, for it is not theirs to carry. I have to say it is about the facilitator too, which is why training is SO important.
What would you say to someone thinking of underrating an FCT session for any reason?
I would say this is something that really needs to be experienced rather than understood intellectually, and I would encourage them to try it before making a judgement.
What is a scenario that deeply moved you whilst you were facilitating a client or group?
Ah there are two I remember. The first was during a group where a person was representing the client’s father who lost his right leg in World War II. They didn’t know he had lost his leg, yet out of the blue the representative for the father started saying, ‘Oh my right leg is hurting.’ It was so acute they said, ‘I can’t stand anymore.
The other moment was a man who did a constellation around his father who was in India and they had been estranged for more than a year. After the break he came back to the group and said his father had called from India right at the time we were doing his Constellation. It is impossible to explain how this works!
The last thing I would like to say is that I would not want to idealise Constellation work and have people believe that it will be the solution to all the problems. It is a modality like any other and there is always ongoing work to do and always with trained professionals.