Systemic Mending & Family Constellations
Sometimes life feels overwhelming.
Maintaining relationships, meeting challenges, and facing big decisions can all bring on fatigue. Sometimes we get stuck.
And when that kind of experience is repeated, it can feel like we're caught in a pattern almost not of our making, asking, "why does this keep happening?" This is especially so if we haven't been able to disrupt it despite lots of effort.
In a constellation session setting, we can take the client seat and give voice to an issue or pain point that has us feeling sad, mad, sick, afraid, perplexed, or just ready for a change. Whatever it is that brings us, is welcome.
Systemic & Family Constellations have been explored around the world for decades. Many of the most difficult situations in the human experience have been explored through this method with compassion, curiosity, non-judgement, and love.
Putting subtle experience into words:
Systemic & Family Constellations are best experienced, not described. Yet in service of providing an entry-point, here is an introduction speaking to the different parts of ourselves that often want different things.
For the part wondering how to change a pattern or make a move:
Most of us think that if we could just understand a problem well enough, we would have a chance of creating something new. So we think and think and think, hoping for a change.
In this day-to-day striving, however, we're always working from the same point of view, often limited and reinforced by old familiar stories and habitual ways of acting and reacting.
Systemic & Family Constellations are helpful because they let us glimpse a system view, which is a broad and helpful perspective to discern dynamics that are usually invisible. And because the method includes somatic (body) awareness, we are offered new information at the same time we're seeing things from a new angle.
This enables us to explore how an issue or pain point may originate in prior generations or other systemic influences outside of our awareness. Constellations often uncover limiting beliefs, family patterns, and inter-generational binds that seem to have been created long ago beyond the memory of family lore.
By slowly and carefully surfacing what was previously unknown or out of view, constellations invite insight and ease. Even a small shift in perspective can give us an increased capacity to respond to old situations in a new way.
I liken it to a pool table. Much of our lives, we're one ball, rolling around, reacting to the others. With constellations, we get a glimpse of the whole table. If we drew chalk lines between the balls we would see how they're connected. But then, if we moved one ball even a little bit, the lines of connection and possibility for interaction would change.
In family and organizational systems, that small movement becomes a moment of unfolding potential.
For the part wanting a handle on some terminology:
Systemic & Family Constellations as a tool for exploring "orders of love and relationship" were articulated by Burt Hellinger, a German psychoanalyst who blended inspirations from many sources. The work has grown and evolved since.
Constellations are typically either “family” or “organizational” because each process explores a system of which we’re a part. We look at simple, relevant elements such as mother, father, boss, co-worker, and the client themselves.
It’s a “constellation” because we’re interested in the pattern those elements make together and how they influence one another.
And the method is “systemic” because we look at how those elements and patterns dynamically interact as viewed through a wide, system-level lens.
For the part asking how this approach is different:
An enduring contribution Hellinger made to humanity is the notion that everything in a system belongs and has a place (known as his "Orders of Love"). The sense is that erasure or denial of something or someone disrupts the flow of love. And this seems to hold true for human systems even if the thing or person denied has long been forgotten.
Facilitator and trainer Stephen Hausner says, “When one person in the system has the courage to look at everything that has happened, and to include everyone who belongs, then movement is possible for everyone in the system.”
But we don't have to find the courage to do it alone, like many of us did when we were small or vulnerable. Nor do we have to actually interact with the people who caused us pain, or the people and trauma of long ago. Remarkably, it is enough to have the people in the family or workplace system simply represented.
The system view and the phenomenology of representation (described in the next section) are what make constellations different.
For the part needing to know what to expect:
Facilitators each develop their own approach that blends their background and personality with the methods of their respective teachers. The constellation field is thankfully increasingly trauma-informed.
Just as every facilitator has their own style, every client and each constellation is unique. It's wonderfully flexible and dynamic. That said, here are the main components that are typically included in a Systemic & Family Constellation session.
Conversation and determining elements: The facilitator and client have a conversation about the issue and determine what elements need to be seen to gain insight. Elements are simple, such as Mother, Father, Boss, Co-Worker, and the Client themselves.
Selecting and placing elements: If the session is in a group setting, the client chooses fellow workshop participants to represent each element and places them according to how it felt or feels in their family or workplace. If the session is in an individual setting, the client places objects on a table or uses an online tool to represent and place each element.
Seeing from a wide-angle lens: If the client places a representative for themselves, it becomes clear: “I am simply one part of a greater whole”. This one move alone often brings insight and relief.
Representation of each element: In a group setting, the workshop participants share what body sensations they notice as they stand in the assigned role within the constellation. This is known as the phenomenology of representation and doing this for another person is often a moving experience that expands compassion for fellow human beings. The reports from the representatives are often startlingly recognizable of the person who is well known only to the client. How this is possible among strangers is a mystery around which there are many theories. In constellations we may simply accept it and use it. In an individual setting, the facilitator utilizes the same capacity of somatic feedback.
Observing and testing the interactions: It’s usually quickly apparent which elements in the system have what they need (often demonstrated with open eyes and deep breathing) and which are compromised (eyes closed and held breath, for example). The facilitator gently offers suggestions of movements and words to explore what brings more of what is needed into the system, often termed "resource". It's subtle and gentle work. We go slow. We stay curious. We repeatedly test and pause, constantly seeking to ensure that the movement serves the client.
Recognizing hidden dynamics: Dynamics such as loyalty, binds, burdens, and potential – sometimes many family generations old or in distant organizational history – are revealed before our eyes and spirits. We honor life when we acknowledge what is.
Closing the process: Offering the most subtle intervention possible, the proffered words and movements invite a new possibility. Facilitator and trainer Jane Peterson describes this as an offering, "for the nervous system of the system". Fundamentally, Systemic & Family Constellations are conducted to increase the flow of love and relationship.
For the part longing to hear a story:
Once upon a time, there was a client who was exhausted, mad, and sad. Her daughter was not doing at all well and their relationship was strained. In the course of exploration, the client shared that she didn't have a good relationship with her mother, nor did her mother have a good relationship with the grandmother. We were in the presence of four generations of aching hearts. In the constellation, we brought in representatives for the client, her mother, and her grandmother. We very slowly brought resource to the system and offered relational repairs.
Weeks afterwards, both the client and the person who had represented the client's mother in the constellation, *separately* told me they were interacting with their daughters in a new, soft, open-hearted way. As such, the client's courageous work benefited her daughter, and the representative's contribution to someone else benefited her family, too. Constellations are a gift we give ourselves and the people in our lives; and standing as a representative in a constellation is life affirming and enriching, as well.
For the part that's a poetic heart:
We understand the child who grows according to the available resources and conditions,
following the impulse to live and grow wherever life took root.
We recognize the adult who develops identity and agency and yet,
at times is as a grain of sand, blowing to the dictate of the wind.
We carry always a knowing of where we belong, to whom we owe or are owed,
and what our place is within a group.
For all that awareness, unconscious bonds and binds prevent us
from unfolding our full potential.
We beseech, “what made this so?”
And we see: The wind makes patterns as it blows the sand.
Systemic & Family Constellation Facilitation with Amelia Psmythe Seger
I first experienced Systemic & Family Constellations as a workshop participant in 2014. From the very first time I stepped into representation in someone else's Constellation, I knew I wanted to learn more and share this incredible modality. I trained in Family Constellation Facilitation in 2016 and 2017; began co-convening a facilitator practice group in 2017; studied Organizational Constellation Facilitation in 2019; and in 2020 felt ready to welcome clients.
As a way to augment my systemic coaching services, I’ve trained with teachers and facilitators around the world, who have each evolved unique approaches that infuse their life and professional wisdom into the work. I’m similarly cultivating my approach, with deep respect to my teachers. This is one of my favorite ways to bring more breath to life.
Systemic & Family Constellations are booked in two-hour blocks, though the process can complete in less time. I work online with people around the world, and in-person in workshops hosted near my home in Portland, Oregon, USA. Individual constellations are profound. For complex circumstances, I relish series work, as it creates space and patience for the arc to be worked in layers while integrated.
In addition to Systemic Constellations and Systemic Coaching, I also offer Integration Sessions. From my view, integration is an important part of the process. After allowing time for the Constellation to settle in the system, I’m happy to provide clients the opportunity to reflect on their experience with my support.