The foundation of systemic phenomenological work

Family constellations

What are they and when do they help you with your issue?

A family constellation shows you how unconscious patterns and dynamics from your family system move you. When you gain these insights, a family constellation often gives room for a new movement with personal issues or patterns that keep recurring.

What is a family constellation?

Family constellations are a method within systemic work to quickly gain insight into the deeper causes of an issue. The founder of systemic work was the German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger (1925-2019), who developed family constellations into a fully-fledged method in the late 1980s.

Systemic work assumes that we are all part of groups and that within those groups and within ourselves we are driven by unconscious patterns and dynamics. A family, but also a class, a sports club, a region, a country, society: they are all systems in themselves.

A constellation provides a spatial and visual image of a system. It is certainly not only about people in the system. It is mainly about how our families have dealt with history and how they have survived painful situations. That way of survival of our (ancestors) parents is often the source of patterns. And patterns are often (unconsciously) passed on.

In a family constellation you investigate personal questions and patterns within a system with the help of a systemic facilitator. By observing and exploring without judgement, the facilitator tries to make dynamics visible and to create space for a new movement or change.

When do you do a family constellation?

When you can’t get any further with the same problem or question over and over, it’s important to discover where this problem comes from. Because we are an inseparable member of our family system, the origin of many of our questions lies in the family system.

A family constellation can make connections from the past and present visible. This can be an eye-opener for questions about:

  • Relationships
  • Upbringing
  • Illness
  • Unexplained feelings or thoughts
  • Addiction
  • Conflicts
  • Depression
  • Persistent unrest
  • Work-related problems

What exactly is the use of a family constellation?

A family constellation gives a new perspective. Not only on the system dynamics that got you stuck, but also on those in which you excel. You discover how your past and environment have contributed to who you are now. A supervisor helps you gain new insights and investigates where there is room for change in the system. With that new approach you can deal with your question in a very different way than before.

In what forms can you do a family constellation?

In a family constellation you set up persons or elements that touch on the personal question of the questioner. The facilitator and the questioner together determine which persons or elements these are. By what or by whom they should be represented, the questioner decides. You can perform the constellation with representatives or with materials.

A family constellation with representatives

A family constellation with representatives is a constellation with people who represent people or elements that touch the question. The representatives can talk, move, touch each other. The questioner gives the chosen representatives a place in the room. Under the guidance of an author, they move, express themselves and show hidden information from the family system.

It is striking that everyone seems to be able to represent. Once a representative has been set up, that person can feel and articulate how she or he relates to the other set up elements. A representative does not need to know anything about the system or the element that she or he represents.

You could say that as a representative you borrow your body and your senses to pick up the information about the system the constellation is about. This often makes a family constellation an intense and impressive experience, also for the representatives.

A family constellation with material

You can also make a problem visual with the aid of constellation material. It is a low-threshold way of drawing up, which a coach or systemic counselor often uses to gain a quick view of the whole together and to see what is going on in the subconscious.

You can work with a table constellation or with floor anchors. The facilitator asks questions, helps you move within the constellation and examines where space is created.

In a table setting, the people and/or elements involved are depicted with a material. These can be dolls, but they can just as well be stones, pens, sugar cubes or shells. The materials are arranged on the table.

You can create a floor arrangement with colored pieces of fabric, each representing a different person or element. Or you use empty A4 sheets and write on them which sheet represents what. The materials are placed on the floor, which has the advantage that as a questioner you can stand in different places to feel what a place does to you.

What makes a family constellation with materials different from representatives?

A constellation with materials is an accessible way for a (first) family constellation. From a practical point of view, a constellation with representatives requires people, a location. Emotionally, it requires the questioner to be willing to expose himself in front of a group. A constellation with materials is often easier and faster to organize. It may be enough to move on.

In a constellation with representatives, however, you do touch another layer. When setting up with materials, you as a participant are the only ones who can move. You can’t control what someone else does. You can move, turn and experience what that movement does to you. In a constellation with representatives, they themselves feel, move and react to the constellation and changes within it. That means that you can have a different outcome from both forms of constellations.

Are family constellations dangerous?

Certainly not. A professional constellation is not dangerous. As long as the facilitator is well trained and knows what he or she is doing. If that is not the case, a constellation can have the wrong effect.

A constellation can release a lot. By definition, it makes room for everything that wants to be seen – including the negative. Realize that when you enter into a constellation. This applies to the questioner, but also to the representatives. You can be asked as a representative for a role that touches your personal themes.

A family constellation for your own issue

At the Bert Hellinger Institute Netherlands you can contact our experienced supervisors for a family constellation in all variants.
With a family constellation in private session, we do our own constellation in 2 hours. The questioner comes alone. The facilitator ensures the presence of 6 representatives. A family constellation in a private session offers a lot of privacy and takes less time than following a workshop.

With personal systemic coaching we make an appointment of around 1.5 hours. There are no representatives present for a line-up. Together with the coach you can make a constellation using floor or table material, making the issue visual and experiencing it.

You can also opt for a workshop or two-day family constellations. You can submit your own question and experience the attitudes of others. You can also be invited to be a representative in constellations of others. These are unique experiences that often also deepen your own process. In addition, you learn to better understand and feel family constellations through the explanation of the trainer and by experiencing constellations of others. For the above reasons, we generally prefer to recommend a workshop or two-day instead of a 1-on-1 session.

Training as a family constellator

If you are interested in learning how to guide family constellations from your professional background, you can follow a family constellation course at the Bert Hellinger Institute Netherlands.

A family constellation course immerses you completely in systemic phenomenological work. Under the supervision of our trainers, you will gain knowledge, experience and insight into the basic principles and dynamics of systems. You learn how to guide a family constellation and thus help other people in their development.

Go to our workshops & training programs.

Can we guide you in your family constellation?

Check the calendar for workshops and sign up right away. Or contact the BHI to make an appointment for a family constellation in private session or personal systemic coaching.


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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

For up-and-coming and established leaders. An initiative of the Bert Hellinger Institute.