About Systemic/Family and Organizational Constellations
from the ISCA International Systemic Constellations Association, for more valuable information go to www.isca-network.org
Family, Organizational and Structural Constellations emerged out of psychotherapy, family therapy, systems theory and phenomenology, Bert Hellinger was pivotal in bringing these strands together in the development of this technique. Systemic Constellations are an effective tool in the resolution of interpersonal problems in both families and organizations and have also been used in educational, health care, coaching, small and large business and organizations, prisons and other social services.
Families and individuals can address issues such as addiction, marriage and relationship, physical and mental illness, adoption, grief, employment and finances.
Organizations can use this process to focus on restructuring, communication, team motivation, harassment, ethical questions, decision making, strategic issues and mission statements. Constellations may also reveal a new perspective on issues related to inheritance, family businesses, war, crimes and race.
Systemic Constellations was originally developed for families and then applied to other systems such as businesses, organisations, education and the medical field. These constellations have evolved from the interweaving of three different strands:
The First Strand
The first strand comes from Systemic theory as developed by family thereapists in the latter half of the 20th century provides the theoretical basis for understanding the dynamics seen in constellations, it acknowledges that all elements within a system, such as family members, are interdependent and interactive. It also acknowledges that the system is greater than the sum of its parts. So if you put all the components of a car in a pile on the floor you do not have a car. Similarly a family is more than just a number of individuals lumped together. Each individual has special roles and relates to each other individual in particular ways. This becomes very clear with the simple phrase” Parents are parents and children are children.”
The Second Strand
The second strand is the technique of using representatives first to represent family members and later elements of larger systems and even concepts. The earliest example of this technique in the Western therapies wasJacob Morenos psychodrama, which was developed in the 1920’s and 30’s.
These first two strands were initially interwoven by Virginia Satir in the 1960s with the process of family sculpting. This three dimensional representation of family dynamics was shown to be very powerful in uncovering and clarifying previously hidden dynamics within the system. More about using representatives
The Third Strand
Phenomenology is the third strand. It can be loosely interpreted as being a technique of acknowledging what is without preconception or prejudice. It is far more difficult than it first sounds and requires practice and mental training.
Although the phenomenological method had been present in Buddhist mindfulness practices for 2500 years, it then developed independently as a western philosophical movement from the time of Edmund Husserl.
Bert Hellinger was responsible for introducing this third strand, creating a new method composed of all three. The addition of phenomenology gave us a deeper way of perceiving systemic dynamics that permits the emergence of surprising insights.
Bert Hellinger also developed a number of theoretical understandings that further supported the development of this way of working. This included such themes as:
1. The orders of love. (Hellinger 1998 p151)
2. An innovative conceptualisation of conscience, guilt and innocence. (Hellinger 1998 pp3–49)
3. Blind love versus enlightened love as seen in entanglements. (Hellinger 1998 p161)
4. A useful conceptualisation of feelings as: primary, secondary, taken over and meta-feelings. The division into primary and secondary feelings had already been well established but it is not clear where it originated. Marsha Linehan discusses this distinction in her book on Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (Linehan 1993 pp227) where she attributes the concept to Greenberg and Safran (1987)
Greenberg, L. & Safran, J. (1987) Emotion in Psychotherapy. N.Y. Guilford Press
Greenberg, L. & Safran, J. (1987) Emotion in Psychotherapy. American Psychologist
Hellinger B. Weber G. Beaumont H. (1998) Love’s Hidden Symmetry; What Makes Love Work in Relationships ISBN 978-1-891944-00-0
Linehan, M. M. (1993) Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York : The Guilford Press.
Systems Theory and Family Therapy
Most of the principles underlying systemic constellation work were clearly outlined by family therapists from the 1960’s onward.
The basic theory of family therapy was derived mainly from systems theory and cybernetics . Ludvig Von Bertalanfy introduced general systems theory to the social sciences and psychology in the 1960’s. This lead to family therapists developing the fundamental idea that the family is an interactive unit affected by past generations and operating on a set of unifying principles, which includes the ideas that:
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So a living human body is more than just its organs and limbs. It depends on how they connect and interact. Similarly a family or organisation is more than just a number of individual members put together. It also depends on how they link and interact.
All elements in a system are interdependent . Changes in one element result in changes in all the others.
In family dynamics this is especially obvious when a family member is excluded. This can be caused by a number of factors including extreme shame or grief. If, for example, a family member is excluded because he has brought shame on the family through illegal activities, then that exclusion has consequences for all the other family members. In organic systems such as the human body or a family (as opposed to a machine like a car) the system works to maintain equilibrium. This process is called homeostasis. In this situation survival of the system takes priority over the survival of the component parts. So when a person is exposed to extreme cold the vital organs will be protected while the extremities may be permanently damaged by frostbite. This is clearly not an ideal solution but it may save a person’s life. Similarly in families an individual may be sacrificed for the sake of the system. Family therapies look for better solutions when possible.
Important schools of family therapy that provide a background to systemic constellation work include:
Structural Family Therapy developed by Salvador Minuchin, in which he defined a “healthy” family structure. Some of the principles of a healthy family are reflected in Hellinger’s theory of “The Orders of Love”. Minuchin also showed how the movement of family members from one chair to another in the session demonstrated aspects of structures and change in the family.
Around the same time, the Milan Group in Italy (Mara Selvini- Palazzoli, Luigi Boscolo, Gianfranco Cecchin and Giuliana Prata ) began to work with families and came to the conclusion that problems involved the family as a whole, not just an individual, and that there is a repetition of patterns from one generation to another.
Strategic Family Therapy , and later Brief Therapy was an outgrowth of the work of the The Palo Alto Group (Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland.) This involved patterns of communication. Jay Haley emerged as a leader in the USA using the teachings and techniques of Milton Erickson (1901-1980) an outstanding hypnotherapist whose work concentrated around interactive patterns.
Each of these major theorists had a part in creating a body of knowledge and a way of intervening with individuals, couples, and families that went beyond the confines of psychodynamic work. They included ideas such as the individual’s symptom, such as anorexia, being seen as a function of the whole system. By reframing, the therapist attempts to weave the family’s content and process together in a way that expands the focus to include all members of the family. The effect of the healing picture, which often emerges during a constellation, serves effectively as a reframe and provides a lasting image of a family in which love flows.
Family Constellation work is a dynamic interaction that takes into consideration all these concepts and the transgenerational patterns that influence the individual from the past. In this regard there are two special areas of influence on the systemic stand of systemic constellation work:
- Transgenerational family therapies 2. African tribal ancestral traditions