Systemic Constellations, which includes Family, Organisational and Collective Constellations is a  process that draws from an integration of existential phenomenology, family systems therapy, psychodrama, gestalt therapy, and indigenous isiZulu beliefs and attitudes to trans-generational family dynamics. It is effective in recognising and resolving patterns inherited from the family and broader historical, social and cultural systems that limit the quality of life for descendants in the present.

In a session the hidden, subconscious loyalties and dynamics that span multiple generations are gently revealed and the client is encouraged to encounter and acknowledge the factual reality of the past. The connection with ancestors is a central feature of the Constellation process. They are regarded as benevolent, constructive and creative presences from whom we inherit our personal gifts and talents.

This form of Constellations was developed by Bert Hellinger who lived in the South African province of KwaZulu Natal for 16 years in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He worked as a Jesuit missionary priest, teacher and eventually as Headmaster of a large school. During these years he became fluent in the Zulu language and participated in Zulu life. Hellinger would go on to train in psychoanalysis in Vienna and was a lifelong student, adding therapeutic methods like psychodrama, gestalt and family systems to his extensive expertise.

A prototype Family Constellations session as developed by Bert Hellinger in the 1990’s would be similar to the flow below. A session is usually 1.5 – 2hrs.

A workshop is led by a facilitator who guides a client to set up a Constellation (described below) with regards to the client’s personal issue. Either individually or in a group.

  • After a brief interview, the facilitator suggests who will be represented in the Constellation.
  • The person presenting the issue (client) asks people from the group to stand in the Constellation as representatives. He or she arranges the representatives according to what feels right in the moment. Then facilitated observation takes place.
  • Representatives do not act, pose, dialogue or role-play.
  • Emphasis is placed on perceptive intuition in placing the representatives and in subsequent steps of the procedure.
  • Participants are guided to perceive and articulate feelings and sensations. Representatives usually experience feelings or physical sensations that inform the process.
  • The facilitator guides the process and offers healing sentences that may resolve tension and shift dynamics, provided it is in the best interest of the client.
  • Constellations are not analysed or discussed afterward. The resolved ‘image’ is known to unfold in the client and the clients life for up to 2 years.

This approach is useful in business situations as well, and has developed into a field of expertise known as organisational constellations or systemic work. The applied principles of constellations work are valuable for business leaders, teams and groups.