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Family Constellations: Joining What Has Been Separated

Family Constellations was originated in the 1980s by Bert Hellinger, a German psychologist who spent many years with the Zulus in South Africa and later worked with Art Janov and Virginia Satir, integrating systems theory, psychotherapy, family therapy, phenomenology, philosophy and spirituality. The Family Constellation process and offshoots of this work, including organizational and environmental constellations, has spread around the world over the last two decades and is active in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America.

This work is based on the profound observation that our well-being or lack of well-being is connected with our family system which includes the living and the generations before us, our ancestors. This is very much in keeping with aboriginal wisdom where honouring our ancestors is an essential part of receiving strength and moving forward in life. This connection is present whether we are conscious of it or, usually, not. Through healing the ancestral soul, we heal our souls. While we typically view our problems as self-generated or blame others, often our difficulties arise out of being unconsciously entangled with unresolved issues from previous generations. This is not new. Aboriginal wisdom says that what we do now affects the next seven generations; and the Bible says the sins of the father are visited upon the sons.

Bert Hellinger enumerated three Orders of Love. The first is that everyone in the family has a right to belong. If someone is forgotten, rejected, ignored then the flow of love is blocked between the generations and a descendant will identify unconsciously with the excluded ancestor and bear that burden. For example a suicidal person may be unconsciously acting out both a murderer and the victim, an event that occurred two, three, four or more generations previously. Other hidden issues include abortions, miscarriages, infidelity, early death of a parent or child which may exhibit as chronic or sudden illness, depression, feeling isolated, mental illness, persistent relationship problems, or being accident prone. The second order is that there is a natural order: parents come before children, the first child comes before the second, etc., the first spouse comes before the second. Examples of entanglements here are the child becoming the parent of the mother or father; a child being recruited as a spouse, emotionally or even sexually; a second spouse not honouring the first one. The third order is that there needs to be balance of give and take in a relationship.

The constellation process allows us to go back in time and clear or resolve those entanglements to the Orders of Love to allow love to flow freely again. By bringing to consciousness that which has been hidden and by honouring the fate of the excluded family member, we reconnect with our own life path and fulfill our own purpose and destiny.

Describing the constellation process is a bit like describing the taste of a food to someone who has never tasted it. It is through the experience of tasting the fruit that we know. In the workshop setting one person who I will call the ‘seeker’, brings up an issue that they want to look at. The facilitator will ask some questions to find out what has happened in the family. He or she will not be interested in the seeker’s story. This is because we are often trapped in our story and the constellation process allows us to gain a new perception. The facilitator will then ask the seeker to choose people in the group to represent different members of the family who are then placed in the circle. The process depends on a key observation of Bert’s: that a person representing another person feels the emotions and body sensations of the person they are representing. Nobody knows how this happens; it remains a mystery though there are many comparisons with quantum physics, the Akashic records and the work of Rupert Sheldrake ( This constellation representation reveals the dynamics of the situation and may show where other members of the family, dead or alive, need to be introduced. The facilitator can then suggest subtle interventions to allow love to flow again. It is a constant observation of mine, that beneath all the anger, disappointments, abuse that people have experienced there is a deep love that flows down from ancestor to descendant. While the constellation supports the healing of the seeker and the seeker’s family, being a representative is a profound way of walking in another person’s shoes and of learning compassion. Each individual constellation takes anywhere from about fifteen minutes to an hour or so.

The constellation process is not limited to family issues and can be used to deal with organizational (business and other groups) and environmental issues. Environmental constellations complement the work of Joanna Macy ( who promotes a whole body of work reconnecting us with the natural world. Again, being a representative in an environmental constellation provides a deeper experiential knowing of the interconnections in nature.

For more information about this work, check out the websites of:

Bert Hellinger - the originator of Family and Systemic Constellatons

Jane Peterson - founder of the Human Systems Institute

Francesca Boring - Francesca introduces an Aboriginal perspective to this work

Mark Wolynn - Mark is the Director of the Hellinger Institute of Western Pennsylvania and is a superb teacher of the dynamics in family systems

2007-2016 © Jonathan Hooton, PhD, PhC, SEP. All rights reserved.