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What Are Family Constellations?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Family constellations and systemic constellations are two group formations that are created by a person seeking help and by a facilitator of a therapy group. They are meant to help a person arrive at what is called a healing resolution: an understanding of how they are deeply connected to family members or issues. Though this therapy is relatively new, it is grounded in a number of much older therapy methods, and it takes inspiration from family systems theory, phenomenology, and many therapies emphasizing the experiential. It is specifically a group therapy and involves little talking.

When a person participates in a family constellations therapy group session, he or she is asked to identify a main issue that is causing distress. With this identification in place, the participant chooses representatives from the number of other people in the group. These representatives can stand for specific family members and they can also stand for issues, such as an ongoing addiction or mental illness. Once the participant has chosen representatives, he or she can elect to move them. The goal is to look at how the person is connected to his family or through the issues back to the problem.

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Unlike in other phenomenological groups, there is no talking from the chosen representatives. They don’t act; they simply stand quietly and attempt to feel their roles. The participant may say something to the representatives, and is likely to make statements to them about the reason why they were chosen or arranged in a certain way. The ultimate goal is for the participant to have a healing resolution, where observation of the representatives and how they are connected to the participant leads to deep insight. If or when a resolution is reached, the next participant in the group creates a new constellation.

An underlying principle when using family constellations is that people are unaware of their ties to their families, which may be beneficial or problematic. In many circumstances, lack of awareness can cause problems and people will tend to repeat the mistakes of their parents or other family members because they do not see their hidden connections to these people. By positioning representatives and creating family constellations, participants may find they more deeply understand the ways in which they are connected to others and how those connections influence a problem.

Use of this group therapy has been most popular in Europe, but is now becoming more popular in places like the US. Thus far most of the research done on this therapy technique has involved small groups, or reports about the therapy are anecdotal. The limited research on this therapy method does suggest some efficacy, and many people are able to attend just a few or even one group session in order to find the connections they need for a healing resolution. Family constellations is not necessarily used to the exclusion of other therapies, particularly individual talk therapy. Some participants find healing resolutions are best processed in discussion with a private therapist.

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