Family Constellations

By Mary B. Rentschler, M.Ed.

Ever wonder why some families, like the Kennedys, have so much tragedy and pain, and seem almost to be "jinxed?". As parents, our deepest wish is that our children thrive and that our families be filled with love and joy. When instead we experience illness, failure, and conflict, we want to know why. Mercury? Allergies? Birth trauma?

German psychoanalyst Bert Hellinger has a different answer. His Family Constellations begin with the idea that instead of originating in an individual’s life history from birth to the present, dysfunction and suffering often relate to painful events in the family’s past. One of the most profound therapies in Europe today, Family Constellations are now available in the United States.

Why Is the Past So Important?

Nothing is more important to a child than belonging. Sometimes a child’s way of belonging, though, is to suffer like those who came before. A child may become "entangled" in the difficult fate of a past family member, and unconsciously draw unhappiness, failure, addiction, or illness into his own life. The purpose of a family constellation is to reveal that hidden dynamic and point the way toward resolution.

How Do Constellations Relate to Autism?

Parents of children with autism spectrum diagnoses know well how the issues they confront constitute a difficult fate for their families. According to Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt (see New Developments, 11:2) such children are particularly vulnerable to disturbances in the family’s energy field. Unhealed trans-generational family issues create a disturbance in the field, which filters down into a child’s psyche, nervous system, and metabolic functioning. Toxins further prevent their physical bodies from receiving information.

With their extraordinary energetic sensitivity, children with autism are easily affected by unresolved trauma in their ancestry, which compounds their illness. These children are very alive outside their bodies, he says, not inside. It is as if the soul is outside the body looking for a place to dock, but can’t find one because of damaged receptors.

Both illness and healing occur at all five levels of Klinghardt’s paradigm: physical, electromagnetic, mental, intuitive, and spiritual. Any disturbance in the physical realm, which includes the body’s structure and functions, manifests also in another form on the other four levels. Family Constellations work at the fourth (intuitive) level, which is what Carl Jung called the "collective unconscious." This level is usually ignored by more familiar interventions.

Constellations work is unique; it can be done for a child any time by any living family member. Klinghardt recommends two or three sessions of Family Constellation work to free up the system to release more toxins. Then other interventions suddenly become more effective.

Many types of practitioners are incorporating constellation work into their practices. Most are mental health professionals. However, given the complexity of autism, constellations are showing up in the tool boxes of doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and other disciplines.

How Do Family Constellations Work?

Family Constellations usually take place in groups. After a brief interview with the facilitator, an individual with a concern chooses representatives for members of his/her family from the circle of participants. S/he positions them in a way that seems right and sits down to watch.

In a short time the representatives begin to experience physical sensations, emotions, or urges belonging not to themselves, but to the family members they represent. It is as though they have become antennae, receiving information from a "family soul" mysteriously present in the room. Facilitators refer to this as the "knowing field."

Through observations, questions, trial statements, and movements, the facilitator and client come to see the issue in a new way. A resolution may emerge that enables the client to break his/her connection with difficulties in the family’s past. Constellations last from 10 or 15 minutes to over an hour. As the hidden dynamic becomes clear and movements of peace and reconciliation arise, the genuine love and strength in a family can begin to flow in a healthy way.

An Example

The family history of one boy with autism was full of turmoil and pain on both sides. His father was preoccupied with his own mother’s tragic story. The boy’s mother, an immigrant whose family had experienced political exile, felt rootless in America. In addition, their decision to abort a previous child lacked healthy closure.

As the constellation unfolded, the body language of the boy’s representative showed his ties to those issues. His intense eye contact with the representative of the aborted child was striking. To lighten the burden on their son, the father needed to become less involved with his mother and more present in his current family. The mother needed to develop respect for and roots in her new country, and together they needed to honor the soul of the aborted child by creating a place for it in their hearts. When they accomplished this with ritualized words and gestures, the boy’s representative breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Can A Family Constellation Help Your Child?

Families who have participated in constellations speak of them as beautiful and life changing. Family Constellations workshops are scheduled at the Autism One conference in May in Chicago and at the USAAA conference in Salt Lake in August. Bert Hellinger will be in Washington, DC in July. Read Ulsamer’s The Healing Power of the Past: A New Approach to Healing Family WoundsThe Healing Power of the Past, an excellent introduction to constellation theory and practice.

[Mary Rentschler, M.Ed., is a graduate of The Hellinger Institute USA and has advanced training in the constellation methodology. She facilitates constellations for individuals in her private practice, and is also a member of The Constellations Group, LLC, which offers monthly workshops in Washington DC. Or contact her by email.)

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 11, Number 3 - Spring, 2006]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

5801 Beacon Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 | P: 800.497.0944 | F: 412.422.1374

Page last modified: February 23, 2009
©2009 Developmental Delay Resources. All rights reserved.