Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation

In April 2000, I travelled to London to participate in a compelling teaching seminar on Family Systems Therapy.

It was led by the internationally acclaimed German psychotherapist and author Bert Hellinger who created Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation work.

Somehow that experience has changed the way I see myself within my family and why I made the decisions that had formed me so far.

Bert Hellinger, now in his late seventies, is considered one of the most controversial and innovative therapists in the world.

He has not only captivated the West’s therapy community with his radical process which he calls Family Constellation, but has recently been forging into the East by working in China and Taiwan.

He has the compassionate gift of helping to expose why things don’t go well for individuals, families, communities and whole countries, and why we are unable to go forward in our lives.

He is working with the client’s soul, his or her family soul and the Greater Soul.

His work with victims and perpetrators and their families caught up in the European holocaust helps them to acknowledge their current predicament: namely that the victims need to be honoured for giving their lives for a higher cause. 

And the perpetrators have to take responsibility for their actions, otherwise their descendants will continue unconsciously to live out the consequences of unacknowledged brutality ‘even unto the third and fourth generation’.

Fully entering into a sympathetic acknowledgement of the family’s entanglement with past actions and suffering, without a moral stance being taken, has an extraordinary healing effect.

Whilst in London, I elected to be a ‘client’ for my own family constellation in front of 300 professional therapists, medical doctors, social workers and lay people.

This meant that, using this radical method, I had to reveal my part in relinquishing my ten-day old child for adoption, 29 years ago.

Hellinger guided me to set up my situation and by observing the representatives dispassionately, forced me to face myself without my story and its accompanying self pity.

Eighteen months later, I feel a debt of gratitude to this man for eliciting the ‘greater truth’ rather than the ‘smaller truth’ to do with that decision. I am now happily reunited with my son.

Hellinger has experienced amazing outcomes using the Family Constellation method.

He never wants to know the details of client’s story but instead asks us to have at the ready such issues as: incest, adoption, infidelity, abortion, suicide or attempted suicide, serious illness, stillbirths, rape, migration, addictions, family secrets, war, personal guilt, family members who have been excluded for reasons of criminality – the sad and darker sides within the family that have been forgotten or repressed. 

His experience is that what is not acknowledged and accepted will usually have painful outcomes for subsequent generations – for example in family systems there is an urge for a child to follow a deceased sibling or parent.

The child says inside “I’ll come with you”. Someone in this situation might commit suicide, or might become ill with cancer or some other disease. It wouldn’t make sense to try to cure the cancer without acknowledging these basic dynamics.

The Hellinger Process and how it works

The client is selected from a group of volunteers.

Hellinger asks a few basic questions (but never wants the story or rationalisations) and then asks the client to choose representatives from the larger group to represent their family of origin – their parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse, lover(s), children and him or herself.

This done, the client then places each person into the position he or she occupies in their inner image of the family: father facing mother, parents next to each other, client facing his parents, their brother next to them, the sister next to the mother etc; whatever feels right to the client.

These selected individuals become the client’s surrogate family constellation. The client now sits down and watches the movements and feelings that arise in the representatives.

In some inexplicable way, the representatives express exactly the family member’s hidden emotions and their relationships with the client – sometimes even their physical symptoms.

In several steps, Hellinger has the representatives clarify these emotions and relationships as they concern the client. He leads the process to a resolution in the form of the final constellation in which the representatives feel ‘right’.

This ‘feeling right’ response of the representatives is the relevant criterion for the resolution.

It does not demonstrate what is right but rather only what was actually experienced by the representatives who knew nothing of the people for whom they stand except for some basic information provided by the client.

There is no moral stance taken.

Finally the client takes the place of his or her representative and internalizes this ‘right feeling’ order. Faces grow peaceful, tense bodies relax and tears fall and breath flows easily when Hellinger leads people through what can only be described as the healing ritual of their family constellation.

By Bubula Lardi

Bubula Lardi, born in 1941, is a practising Family Constellation facilitator and psychotherapist.
She has a long experience of working and caring for people as a graduate nurse, midwife, family counsellor and community educator.

For more than twenty-five years she has used a wide range of therapeutic and meditative modalities including Gestalt, Voice Dialogue and hypnosis.

In 1998 she was influenced by the work and teachings of Bert Hellinger in Family Constellations or Family Systems therapy.

Since that time, she has trained in this profound phenomenological work from a number of Europe’s leading practitioners including the originator of constellation work, Bert Hellinger.

Bubula Lardi honours her many teachers during her lifetime but acknowledges that her deepest gratitude is towards her parents and her ancestors.

She leads workshops in Byron Bay (where she lives with her husband,) Sydney, Tilba Tilba (on the NSW south coast) and New Zealand.

Visit her site for more information.

Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation was originally published in the Here & Now magazine, Byron Bay

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