Current Trends in Family System Constellations
Excerpts from scholarly articles.

Family Constellations - Awareness Play

Family and Systemic Constellation as developed by Bert Hellinger has undergone and continues to undergo significant change. Whilst adhering to the basic method of representative selection and intuitive interactions the underlying theory and style of practice has started to incorporate better accepted and mainstream Gestalt, Humanistic, Bioenergetic and Somatic Experiencing modalities. Many current facilitators distance themselves from Hellinger's occasionally authoritarian style of facilitation. They also question whether morphic resonance is an appropriate and valid hypothesis to explain some of the intuitive perceptions, reconciliations and healing witnessed in constellation sessions.

In fairness to Hellinger some of his critics completely misunderstood his more controversial statements. We don't know how it's possible for the representatives to feel strangers' symptoms, says Hellinger; "I'm unable to explain this phenomenon, but I see that it's so, and I use it." His central thesis is simply the recognition and acceptance of the actual realities in life, reconciliation and the restoration of the flow of love between human beings. He contends that unless this is achieved pain, hurt and trauma has not been fully healed.

 

The issue of the ethics, skill and general practice of how we facilitate constellations is a topic that is rarely discussed, and yet it is crucial. How we teach newcomers to facilitate is also a topic that has produced few books or articles, and yet, in the end, our practice and work must and will stand on this topic, and this topic alone, as the future of constellations work unfolds.

Yes, the constellations process is at times awe-inspiring in its reach, profundity and effectiveness, but it cannot and does not exist on its own. It never comes without the practice of the facilitator, the vehicle through which the constellation is formed and functions, and this very power and effectiveness of the constellations process can be damned by the facilitator.

What is also true is that the newcomer to the work of constellations often does not have the ability and experience to be able to discern the effective, ethical and ‘good’ facilitator. Too often the impact of the constellation confuses the novitiate in his or her ability to estimate the effectiveness and morality of ‘good facilitation’. Yes, I use the word ‘morality’ because to me good facilitation is moral facilitation, in the sense of the dictionary definition of the word ‘moral’.

Sadly, in my view, many family constellations facilitators have taken some of the more disappointing aspects of Hellinger’s, at times, authoritarian facilitation to heart, and have developed into authoritarian and directive facilitators, forgetting, in my view, that the client really is and must always be understood as the best authority on himself, even if much of his ‘knowing’ is not fully conscious.

Hellinger, initially when working with the constellation, used a representative for the client because he thought that it was not possible for the person to see beyond his fixed frame of reference, and despite the fact that many times later in his work he did put the client directly into the constellation from the start, this idea of there having to be a representative for the client seems to have stuck. I did it myself for many years, espousing this same idea, that it was not possible for the person to move beyond their fixed frame of reference of who they are; that, in effect, the client is a helpless hapless individual who needs someone to see him or her for who he actually is, and tell him.

I don’t believe this at all now, and my work proves it to be untrue every day. In fact I think this attitude, an attitude that says that the therapist/facilitator knows better than the client, is dangerous. It has its reach back to the very beginnings of psychoanalysis, when Freud, under pressure to be sure, decided that the accounts of his clients of having been sexually abused as children where not true, but the wishful fantasies of the child for sexual contact with the parent (Masson, 2012).

This then allowed the analyst to be the interpreter of the client’s material, thereby the authority of the truth of the client, the arbiter of who the client really is and the controller of the therapy.

There cannot be a more extreme example of the abuse of power than for one person to assume such a role as the interpreter of another’s reality.

Ethics, morality and constellations facilitation
Posted on 12/07/2013 by vivian broughton

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Family systems therapy draws on systems thinking to view the family as an emotional unit. When applied to families, systems thinking—evaluating the parts of a system in relation to the whole—suggests that an individual’s behaviour is informed by and inseparable from the functioning of his or her family of origin.

Family systems therapy is interested in creating more scientific and objective treatment processes as an alternative to conventional diagnostic frameworks and investigate how change in behaviour of one family member would influence the way that the family functions over time.

The Effectiveness of Family and Relationship Therapy:
A Review of the Literature

Phillipa Evans, Shelley Turner and Associate Professor Chris Trotter

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A startling----and often downright amusing----expose of the alternative philosophies and practices that can be found in today's ever--growing psychotherapeutic marketplace. The book describes actual case histories of people who participated in a variety of controversial therapies, including alien abduction, past lives regression, and aromatherapy.

Crazy Therapies : What are They? Do They Work?
Janja Lalich and Margaret Thaler Singer

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Neurosciences are one of the fastest growing areas of research today. The ultimate goal to understand the brain function is a long-term investment and requires the concerted efforts and close collaborations of all disciplines in neurosciences. Despite all the progress, most of the neurological and neurodegenerative diseases are still far from being treatable. As the task to understand the brain function and dysfunction is extremely complex, a strong interaction between the different disciplines in neuroscience is required..

Network of European Neuroscience Institutes
European Congress of Neuropathology

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A new study bolsters evidence that brain structure and mood disorders
are genetically passed from mother to daughter.

We often attribute key characteristics to one of our parents: “He gets his athleticism from his father.” “Her quickness to anger—that’s all her mother.” Whether the genetics are actually pulling the strings in these cases is another story. But a growing body of research has suggested that heredity does apply to mood disorders—including depression, which afflicts more than 2.8 million adolescents in the U.S. alone—and that there is compelling evidence hereditary ties are strong between mothers and daughters.

Like Mother, Like Daughter--the Science Says So, Too
By Jordana Cepelewicz on January 26, 2016
Neuroscience, Scientific American

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In companion papers on the Family Systems research at the National Institute of Mental Health, we have indicated that our research has been focused upon links between individual schizophrenic impairment and family patterns of thinking and communicating. In the study of individual offspring we have been especially concerned with the structural or formal aspects of ego disorganization, particularly thought disorder. We have conceptualized schizophrenic thinking along a continuum based upon broad developmental principles in which relatively "amorphous" forms of thinking can be distinguished from better differentiated but still "fragmented" forms of thinking. In the present study we have also used a dimension of severity of ego disorganization as well as traditional diagnostic distinctions. In the study of family system patterns we have been especially concerned with those family styles of communicating and relating which help shape a growing child's forms of thinking.

Thought Disorder and Family Relations of Schizophrenics
Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD; Lyman C. Wynne, MD

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While acknowledging the reality of trauma, Family Constellation in its original form as developed by Bert Hellinger, offers no specific concept for understanding it. This sometimes leads to neglect of the fact that traumatized clients need to be treated in a way that differs from other clients.

New approaches to Family Constellation work more with spontaneous movements of the representatives and this gives time for deeper layers of a family system to reveal themselves. This is closer to the perspective of body-oriented trauma therapy, which considers trauma as an event that particularly affects the body and its nervous system.

The classical style of doing constellations, where representatives are basically guided by the facilitator and his concepts, can easily pre-empt the natural discharge of trauma, forcing a premature conclusion that is not mirrored by the actual state of a client’s nervous system. For example, in a session where the trauma was perpetrated by one or both of the parents, one might see a client being asked — almost forced — by a therapist to bow to those parents in a kind of subordinance. Such a gesture cannot lead to positive results. Rather, it can be seen as a new form of conditioning, whereby the client is taught what is right and what is wrong and learns to surrender to a moral concept.

In a worst case scenario, it could lead to a strengthening of trauma symptoms. Family Constellation‘s new approach gives more space for trauma discharge to occur naturally, as the facilitator intervenes less and allows movements of the systemic energy field to unfold by themselves.

Nevertheless, it is important to bring more clarity to what actually happens in trauma — not only psychologically, but also physiologically. In this article, I will examine how trauma therapy can contribute to the work of systemic therapists. Specifically, I will refer to Peter Levine‘s ground-breaking approach to trauma therapy, called Somatic Experiencing, which is more comprehensive in emphasizing the biological roots of trauma and its effect on the body and nervous system.   

The Zen Way of Counseling.
A meditative approach to working with people.

Svagito Liebermeister

Bibliography:
Levine, Peter: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (North Atlantic Books, California 1977)
Hellinger, Bert: Wo Ohnmacht Frieden stiftet. Familien-Stellen und Kurztherapien mit Opfern von Trauma, Schicksal und Schuld (Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag, Heidelberg 2000)
Rothschild, Babette: The Body Remembers The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment (W. W. Norton & Co, New York)
Ruppert, Franz: Verwirrte Seelen. Der verborgene Sinn von Psychosen. Grundzuege eine systematischen Psychotraumatologie (Kösel-Verlag, München 2002)
Liebermeister, Svagito: The Roots of Love: A Guide to Family Constellation (Perfect Publishers, London 2006)
Liebermeister, Svagito: The Zen Way of Counseling. A meditative approach to working with people (O-Books, John Hunt Publishing, London 2009)

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In certain circles, there is a great deal of discussion about actions of “cultural appropriation,” the sociological concept which views the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture as negative and unsavory. According to proponents of this concept, these cultural borrowings are problematic for a variety of reasons, not only for questions of cultural oppression and group identity but also claims of intellectual property rights.

Because Bert Hellinger was inspired to create constellations after learning about the Zulus’ traditions of ancestor reverence, this question naturally arises from time to time. It is not unknown for constellation facilitators to receive criticism for cultural appropriation, particularly when they are integrating various indigenous traditions into their presentations.
Francesca Mason Boring, who is an author, international facilitator, teacher and lecturer, working with universal indigenous fields in family constellations for years, is sharing her thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Cultural Appropriation:
When to Borrow from the Indigenous, and When Might It Offend?

By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP

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Informed by his clinical experience Prof. Franz Ruppert introduces his insights into the origins of psychological distress and has developed a new way of working sensitively with Constellations to reveal and resolve the hidden dynamics of past trauma.

Franz Ruppert, makes a very helpful distinction between ‘high stress’ and ‘trauma’. You can find a detailed description in Theory of Multigenerational Psychotraumatology, but briefly the distinction that he makes is as follows:

High stress is a highly mobilised state with the reaction of ‘fight or flight’. This is easily understandable in the sense that in order to fight or run away in the face of threat we do need enormous amounts of energy, so the psychophysical system secretes strong energising chemicals to support this reaction. High stress is just that; not the daily stress of life, but the stress of an extremely stressful situation; we can think of it as the highest stress we can manage as a limited psychophysical being.

Trauma on the other hand is a state of collapse, of resignation, an extremely low-energy state where the psychophysical organism has shut off all energising secretions in order to maintain as best it can it’s existence. It comes into play when the high stress strategy fails; fight or flight has not been possible, and the person is completely and utterly helpless.

The organism cannot maintain a high stress state for very long… think of a balloon that you are blowing up; there is a point at which you cannot put any more air into that balloon but the balloon will burst. Usually we can tell this moment and stop putting air into the balloon and tie the knot. The same is true of us. The organism has an automatic cut-off system so that we do not ‘burst’ and die. A highly mobilised state for too long will become life-threatening in itself, regardless of the external situation.

The trauma state response is collapse, a freezing or deadness, and fragmentation. Fragmentation is part of the organism’s attempt to maintain some integrity in the face of overwhelming forces, and in order for this to be achieved something has to be lost, has to be sacrificed, and that is unity; The intolerable experience of the situation is split off from the self. This happens physically where the trauma effect is numbed into one part of the body… body-workers such as cranial osteopaths, zero-balancers, sensitive chiropractors, know this and I have had many tell me of their experiences of such phenomena in their patients. It also happens with the psyche where the intolerable and unmanageable emotional experience is split off through dissociation… literally the mind dissociates from the experience. This splitting then, according to Franz Ruppert’s theory, becomes structural over time, evidenced in our multitude of daily behaviours and attitudes of control, avoidance, denial, distraction and compensation (for the numbed out emotional state).

Trauma Bonding & Family Constellations
Understanding and Healing Injuries of the Soul

Prof. Franz Ruppert

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I begin with a personal remark: In spite of all the enthusiasm that I experienced discovering family constellations, I was always aware that the approach of family constellations addresses only a certain area of problems, namely those that are rooted within our families. This certainly is an important area, yet not all of our issues stem from this root. Many problems are caused by life experiences unrelated to our families and therefore can't be resolved with family constellations. I perceive constellations work as one wing of the bird. In order to fly we need the second wing.

Trauma Work and Family Constellations: Irreconcilable or Complementary?
Bertold Ulsamer

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