The foundation of systemic phenomenological work

Frequently asked questions

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Systemic work

What are systems?

You can think of a system as a group, within which the “rules” and frameworks are different from those that apply outside of it. We are all part of groups, of systems. First, you are born into your family’s system, even without consciously choosing to do so yourself. But also a class(room), a sports club, a team in an organization, a region, a country, society in general: these are all systems within themselves. And each system in turn is part of a larger system.

What is systemic phenomenological work?

Systemic work focuses on subconscious patterns within systems. Taking a phenomenological perspective means exposing yourself to what can be observed about the whole. In other words, you don’t look at the details of cause and effect, but start with just letting all the information come to you, without wanting to interpret it.

Systems “want” to be complete. By observing and exploring without judgment, you can explore what wants to be acknowledged in (the past of) the system, before being able to take a next step. This creates a whole new palette of intervention options.

What is systemic consciousness?

You are systemically conscious when you understand that systems exist and that the actions of the individuals in those systems are influenced by the power of the system as a whole.

When we talk about systemically conscious action, that action comes from knowing about the three “consciousnesses”.

  • Evolutionary force: that which life wants (from me/us)
  • Unity consciousness (also called personal consciousness ): that which I want from life
  • Systemic consciousness: that which has been excluded from history regains a place in the system

These three forces continually act on us and on systems. Systemically conscious action demands that we constantly observe and test what wants to be complete in the system, what order brings flow into this system and how the exchange works between taking and giving. Systemic consciousness is connected to both the whole and the parts of the whole.

What are system dynamics?

Systemic work is very much about lifting subconscious dynamics or patterns to the surface. Systems have conscious and subconscious (survival) mechanisms and are influenced by evolutionary life forces. When you want to understand why the system functions as it does, it helps to open up to the subconscious system dynamics. This allows you to see what still needs to be acknowledged and what needs a place. Understanding what system dynamics are trying to accomplish can lead to other movements.

What does a systemic coach or facilitator do?

A systemic coach zooms out with a systemic phenomenological perspective. For example: There is a problem in a team. The systemic coach, together with the client, will look at the team as a whole, but also at the organization, or its origins and perhaps more than that.

With the main question in mind: “What problem does this solve?”, the coach digs up underlying – often subconscious – patterns when people experience problems in their personal or professional lives. Observing and acting without judgment, the coach investigates the real cause of the problem. This creates insights and a different perspective, allowing the client to approach reality in a completely different way.

What is the added value of systemic coaching over other ways of coaching?

Coaching often focuses on the now and the individual. Systemic coaching focuses on the functioning within a system and how patterns from the past can get in the way of change in the present. You discover that a problem may look different from a different perspective – or may no longer be a problem at all.

The systemic approach sets in motion a process that allows you to permanently abandon old, non-functioning patterns and move into new directions.

Am I qualified to become a systemic coach?

A systemic coach or facilitator must be able to observe and act without judgment. With the BHI trainings, courses and workshops, you will learn about and become sensitive to systemic work. You practice the knowledge gained under the watchful eye of experienced trainers.

In addition, as a coach, you must be able to open up to and engage with the systemic process. You are committed to phenomena that do not conform to rational explanations. You are willing to use yourself as an instrument in the process. Indeed, your inner attitude and leadership are essential and leading within the system. This requires that you have an awareness of yourself:

  • What are the processes taking place within myself during an introductory interview?
  • How does my body act as a radar for systemic energy?
  • What are my own blind spots and where do I need coaching myself?
  • How do I deal with the not-knowing?
  • What should I unlearn and let go of?

When you understand the basic principles of systems and are able to put them into practice, and know how to use yourself as an instrument, you can flesh out your systemic leadership. As a systemic facilitator or systemic coach, you have a task that requires leadership, responsibility and ethics. After all, you work with people and their life questions, or organizational questions that affect a lot of people.

Constellations – general questions

What is a constellation?

A constellation is a method to quickly gain insight into the root causes of an issue. With a constellation, you create a spatial image of a system. This can be a family constellation, of your family system, but also an organizational constellation, to examine the relationships between teams, for example.

In a constellation, elements that are relevant to the question someone wants to explore are set up in the room. These could be, for example, a father, or a grandmother, but also abstract elements such as an event in history, a country, or an organizational goal. These elements can be represented by people (so-called representatives), but you can also do constellations with dolls or objects, pieces of paper or even in your imagination.

By observing a constellation, you can suddenly become aware of subconscious patterns. Patterns that have constantly directed your life, when in fact you yourself wanted to go in a different direction. When you live in the middle of such a pattern, you are lived by that pattern. By observing the constellation from a distance, you become conscious of the pattern and you can make your own choices. Suddenly it becomes clear what your behaviour of, for example, “having problems dealing with new things” is trying to express: perhaps the painful history of a grandfather who started a new venture that ended in bankruptcy which had consequences for a lot of people….

Constellations therefore do not provide solutions, but insight. A constellation teaches us to zoom out and focus on that which still needs a place in history.

The facilitator of systemic work with constellations knows how the consciousnesses in systems work and tests, for example by adding elements or having sentences spoken, where something still wants to be acknowledged in the system.

‘Acknowledgment is the most healing movement.’

Bert Hellinger

In doing so, a facilitator works without judgment. The coach or facilitator does not give advice to the person asking the question, but supports the exploration of the mutual relations between the various elements.

What is a representative?

A representative represents a person, or an element in the constellation. Everyone seems to be able to be a representative. You could say that you lend your body and your senses to pick up the information about the system that is the subject of the constellation. Once a representative is set up, that person can articulate how she or he relates to the other elements in the constellation. To do this, a representative does not need to know anything about the system or element she or he represents.

This is an interesting phenomenon for which we do not yet have a scientific explanation. But apparently the senses that can perceive relationships, distance and proximity, are activated as soon as we are in a constellation.

What is an intervention?

An intervention is aimed at recognising the dynamics within a system and creating those conditions that make the system more vital. This often starts with a clarification of the relationships and dynamics in the system. Zooming out and looking at the bigger picture often suddenly reveals connections between what once happened in the system and the question at hand.

An intervention can consist of adding elements, having sentences spoken, or sometimes asking a question, allowing the client to deal with her or his initial question in a very different way.

Family constellations

What is a family constellation?

You could say that with a family constellation you are systemically exploring personal questions. We are all members of our own family system, the origin of many of our questions. A family constellation is not just about the individuals in the system, but more about how our families have dealt with history and how they have survived painful situations and events. The survival methods our ancestors used are often the source of patterns we experience as oppressive or restrictive. With a family constellation, those connections in the past and present can provide insight. When subconscious patterns enter our consciousness, choices emerge, where we were previously guided by subconscious patterns.

When do you use a family constellation?

A family constellation gives new perspective, allowing you to deal with your question in a different manner. You gain insight into how the system dynamics caused you to get stuck, but also what you excel at and how your past and your social environment contribute.

You can use a family constellation to explore a variety of topics:

  • Relationships
  • Parenting issues
  • Illness
  • Unwanted conduct
  • Unexplained feelings or thoughts
  • Addiction
  • Conflicts
  • Depression
  • Inability to take steps toward a different job
  • Inability to find peace

Can I do a family constellation at BHI for my own question?

The BHI provides trainings, courses and workshops in the field of systemic work. Our family constellation workshops introduce you to family constellations in general, and there is opportunity to explore a personal question with a family constellation. Check out our workshops for all the options.

You can also book a private session with one of our experienced coaches.

This can be done at a BHI location or the coach’s own practice, but it can also be done online or by phone. You can always contact us for the options.

Does my family need to be there when I do a family constellation?

No. You can come alone and explore your question with a family constellation. Precisely because a constellation visualises the (often subconscious) undercurrent in systems, you gain new insights, which were not visible from within the system. Of course you can also come with your partner, or with a brother or sister, for example.

When do I choose to do a family constellation in a private session, when do I follow a workshop and when do I choose personal systemic coaching?

In a family constellation in a private session, we work on a constellation for 2 hours. The person who has the question comes alone. The BHI facilitator will arrange the presence of 6 representatives. A family constellation in a private session offers a lot of privacy and takes less time than a workshop.

When you opt for personal systemic coaching, we schedule an appointment of around 1.5 hours. There are no representatives for a constellation. You can, however, set up a constellation with the coach using floor or table materials to visualise and experience the issue at hand.

In a family constellation workshop, you can bring in your own question and also experience the constellations of others. You will also regularly be invited to be a representative in constellations of others. These are unique experiences that often also offer deeper insight into your own process. In addition, you will learn to see and feel family constellations better through the trainer’s explanations and by experiencing constellations of others.

Check out our workshops for all workshop options. You can contact the BHI to make an appointment for a family constellation in a private session or for personal systemic coaching.

Organizational constellations

What is an organizational constellation?

An organizational constellation is a spatial depiction of the dynamics in an organizational system or a team. An organizational constellation maps out which elements and roles influence the dynamics in the system. By zooming out to look at the larger picture, and also to the origins and history of an organization, the constellation provides clarity about, for example, the causes of resistance and visualises the situation. You can also use an organizational constellation to examine what consequences certain changes will have or what conditions must be met to implement changes properly.

The systemic perspective can coexist with all existing management models, business structures, and organizational plans. It isn’t either-or. It’s and-and. By making systemic insights tangible and allowing people within the organization to experience patterns and insights, systemic work can be used for a variety of issues and change processes within organizations.

When do you use an organizational constellation?

When there are questions about the ups and downs in the organization, when insight is desired into what conditions are needed to implement changes, when there are questions about high absenteeism rates within the organization: an organizational constellation offers insight into a variety of situations.

The dynamics within organizations are fuelled by the undercurrent. An organizational constellation can help you change patterns or look at issues from a different perspective.

Underlying dynamics and patterns play a role in a variety of situations. A few examples:

  • There is resistance within the organization.
  • A department or company is facing a merger; what conditions should we not forget to move forward?
  • Recurring patterns in certain positions.
  • People want more unity within the organization for future decisions, such as the introduction of a new product, a policy change, etc.
  • There is a culture of fear.
  • Saying goodbye to a department in a good way.
  • Investigate how to launch a new product or logo.

Can the BHI facilitate an organizational constellation for a specific situation submitted by my organization?

Our organizational constellation workshops introduce you to organizational constellations in general, and there is opportunity to explore a question coming from your own organization with an organizational constellation. Check out our workshops for all the options.

You can also book an organizational constellation for your organization with one of our experienced systemic facilitators. You can always contact us for the options.

Any other questions?

Please contact the Bert Hellinger Institute. Our staff will be happy to answer your questions!


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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.