What Is a Constellation?

Systemic Family Constellations are a way of working with difficult personal problems. Every person and every problem is part of a larger tapestry of human connection. Intellectually, we may recognize patterns of negative behaviors and destructive relationships, but in practice it can be extremely difficult to free ourselves from the ones that feel most unwanted.

Systemic constellations reveal and transform embedded patterns that are otherwise very challenging to understand and change. Like the synchronized swooping of flocks of birds, these patterns are not based on conscious choice. They happen automatically. Often, they cause our worst suffering.

Through this process we can see and feel our shared strength and vulnerability. We become aware of the complex web of interconnection reaching into our present from generations past. Experiencing this interconnectedness so directly has an amazingly freeing effect.

The Constellation process was first developed by Virginia Satir and refined by Bert Hellinger. Its philosophic and therapeutic stance derives from an integration of existential-phenomenology, family systems therapy, and elements of indigenous spiritual practices.

A Constellation begins with two questions: “What is your issue?” And, “What would be a good outcome?”


A Constellation Story

A 31 year-old woman was referred for a Constellation via Skype. Since the age of 16, she has suffered from pelvic pain diagnosed as endometriosis. The pain was frequently disabling.

Constellations are not a treatment for any medical or psychological condition nor an alternative to professional care. However, illnesses and symptoms often have family system dimensions.

In the first step, she told me a few basic facts about the family.  The client’s mother was from a respected Norwegian family. She was statuesque, blonde, and blue-eyed. Her father was descended from the indigenous Sami people of the North. His build was compact, with darker skin and Native features.

In the second step, we created a simple Constellation.  I began standing in the client’s place. Then, one at a time, we added representatives for the symptom, mother, father, and grandparents.  We stood silently, letting our perceptive intelligence, intuition, and bodies open to awareness.

Our minds are loaded with facts. We automatically rummage through them in hopes of solving the mystery of why we suffer. Constellations tune into feelings that were there before the first fact was deposited. They reveal not what we think, but what thinks us. In the interval between each thought, in the emptiness between heartbeats, we can recall what we always knew.*

The process moves slowly. It takes patience and concentration.  More than an hour passed as we perceived and felt.  Gradually, an image emerged.

Behind the father was a lineage of Sami women. They were traditional healers who treated diseases with love and plants. Behind the mother was a lineage of Nordic warriors, Vikings and Christian soldiers. These men wielded sharp metal weapons. To Christian missionaries, the Sami women healers were witches. Their folk medicine and heathen rituals were punishable by death.

The sharp pain in the client’s womb symbolized this archaic struggle for supremacy.  Her genetic inheritance literally embodied the war between witches and warriors.

The last step is a story whispered in dream-like imagination. The soldiers recognized their daughter and dropped their swords. The Sami women took back their pain and showered their daughter with love and blessings.

Five months later, the client told me, “The pain has greatly decreased. I am convinced that your Constellation had a lot to do with this.”

See William Irwin Thompson The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light.