The Associate - Newsflash! The newsletter for graduates and students of Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling
holding circle, is an experience which is profound and touches the deepest parts of ourselves. It requires a major shift in our thinking and asks of us that we adopt a new paradigm – that of viewing the world and those living in it in a holistic, inter-connected way. We are urged to move beyond the dualistic nature of being, of seeing right and wrong, good and bad, cause and effect to seeing that everything and everyone are inextricably linked, that the past and the future are not separate from the present. This is a quantum leap for some people, yet not for those already interested in Gestalt theory, permaculture, morphic resonance, crop circles or quantum physics.
Describing a constellation in words is not an easy process. The word evolved out of a whole series of words being used to describe a new phenomenon brought to England by founder, Bert Hellinger in 1996. The German word was so straightforward: Systemaufstellung (setting up a system) but in our own much more subtle language a new word had to be found. If we gaze up at the stars, we see constellations everywhere. We see them dotted about the sky in a spatial relationship to one another. So, in its most literal sense, that’s exactly what a constellation is – a number of people (or objects) placed in spatial relationship to one another much like the stars. However, this is but the tip of the iceberg. Constellation work is a lot more than that. Being part of a constellation, whether as client, facilitator, representative or member of the
When we start to think in this way, we can more readily accept that the actions of our ancestors are with us now and that a lot of our current suffering is directly linked to ‘past’ events. It helps to see that the family is a system which needs to be in balance in order to thrive – just like nature. And just as in nature, many things upset the balance of our families and we and our children and grandchildren feel the effects. If you see love as flowing down through the generations just like a river flows to the ocean, then what happens is that there are boulders in the river and some of them are immediately visible (such as adoption, or the early death of a child or parent) and may not be able to be removed; others are not visible and may become so through a constellation (abortions, secret affairs, murder). Then our job is to see if it is possible to remove these boulders so that the river of love can flow freely once more. Removing them would be equivalent to an opening of the heart and the re-inclusion (‘re-membering’) of the missing person. Sometimes it just isn’t possible and then we have to find a way to come to a deep level of acceptance of what is.
Bert Hellinger’s original vision was that this work would be freely evolving and not come under any fixed methodology and as a result there is a wide variety of ways of working with constellations and many applications beyond working with families. The work has gained acceptance across the world and there are few countries left who have not embraced constellations in some form or another.
Many people working with constellations have now thrown out the idea of the ‘orders’ which Bert Hellinger originally talked about, but for me they still form the bedrock of the work. The important thing is not to hold on to them tightly, to be prepared to let them go if what is in front of your eyes, tells you something different. I think the analogy with nature is an interesting one. We don’t think anything of the ‘rules’ which apply in nature and help maintain balance – a seed comes before a shoot, the seasons follow a certain order. What happens in nature doesn’t have anything to do with right or wrong. It is just a system doing what it needs to do to maintain balance. We as humans have disrupted the order in nature and now we are reaping the consequences.
No-one really knows what happens in a constellation; for me, it is as if we step into the energy field of the client’s family to see what emerges. In a group situation we can choose members of the group to represent members of our family and sometimes abstract concepts like: war, love, truth, a secret or maybe a part of ourselves. We place these people in the middle of the group according to our intuition and then begins the piece people find hardest to take on board – the representatives start to experience sensations, an urge to move or deep emotions related to the person they are representing. Clients are repeatedly astounded by the accuracy of what they see and hear from representatives of their family members. By looking at the shape of the constellation and seeing and sometimes hearing the experiences of the representatives, it is possible to begin the process of seeing if we can uncover and/or remove the boulder. Healing sentences provide a ritual for opening the heart and ‘coming home’. This work can be equally effective when carried out in an individual session using mats on the floor or Playmobil figures.
The same is true in families and the 2 natural laws which help maintain balance in a family system are: Ÿ Everyone has an equal right to belong to their family, no matter what they might have done. Ÿ There is a hierarchy in terms of time. Those born first take precedence over those who come later i.e. parents give and children take. The eldest child has more weight than the next child and so on.
The effects of the constellation are sometimes immediate and dramatic and can be felt by members of our family not present at the workshop. More often the changes are gradual and can take anything up to a year to have an effect. Sometimes, there is no effect at all and this can be for all sorts of reasons. Surprising though it may seem, it can be difficult for some people to let go of their stories and their suffering.
Unless you are able to step outside your own morals, and your own ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘better’ and ‘worse’ you will find it hard to accept the above and all the other natural orders that flow from these two.
I could offer many examples of the effects of constellations but I will restrict myself to one personal example and two from people I worked with in a group many years ago. The first example was to do with my father whose own father had been an excluded person in the family. He hadn’t seen him in 64 years. I was
doing a constellation about the male side of my family and in that constellation I brought in this excluded grandfather. My father had no idea about the work I was doing. Next time I talked to him he had found a photo of his own father with his arm round his wife, my father’s mother. He said he saw for the first time the possibility that maybe his father wasn’t all bad and asked us to take him to find where he was buried and where he had lived. He managed to make peace with his father before he died. We later discovered that this grandfather had died only six weeks after his wife whom he also hadn’t seen for that length of time. The second example was of a couple who had been trying to have a child for many years. They both did their own constellation but it was when the man stood in the line of men in his family, looking tall and proud, that I brought in his wife and stood her beside him. She sobbed and said how great it felt to stand next to her husband when he had this line of men behind him. They conceived that night! The third and most poignant example was of a woman who had given up a child for adoption at the age of 16 and hadn’t seen her since. In the constellation there was a highly emotional and deeply moving reunion between them. Two weeks after the workshop the adopted child made contact with her. I have many such dramatic examples. However, for the majority of people the changes are much more gradual and subtle and often the direction of the change is not at all what we may predict.
There are many scientists researching what happens in a constellation to try and make sense of it. In other professions, people are trying to find ways to fit the work into their own paradigm so they can really understand what it is about. For me the work stands alone; it does not fit into any box, mainly because it asks of us that we enter a new paradigm – a new way of
viewing the world. This is difficult for a lot of people. They want to be able to fix it somewhere so they can make sense of it. As with most new discoveries, there are overlaps with other disciplines, but for the time being at least what happens when a person stands in as a representative remains a mystery, and who knows, maybe if and when some kind of ‘formula’ is found, it will lose some of its effectiveness. That remains to be seen.
June’s deep interest in short term work arose after a sabbatical year she took following her diagnosis with a chronic illness in 1997 (click here for June’s story in last month’s . She felt she very much wanted to continue counselling but that it would be fairer on clients not to accept them long-term when the outlook for her was so uncertain. She therefore resolved to be clear about the framework and stick to it and has been working this way for over 13 years. She is accredited with BACP since 2005 and practises mindfulness.
In response, she has designed a day-long workshop tailored to meet this need. It’s an integrated CPD opportunity which aims to support attendees in exploring at depth what short-term work really means to a therapist. Working experientially and via discussion, role play and through group supervision, the workshop will uncover the essential differences between shortterm and long-term or open-ended therapy. Topics will include unspoken attitudes, beliefs and agendas around short-term work, it’s suitability for specific clients and an appreciation of the pressures, rewards and practical implications of working short-term. The group will also look at the boundary between time-limited counselling and life coaching. June will share with the group some of the features of her own developing model for brief work to assist those who might wish to develop their own model fully for themselves. The day itself will be structured to reflect one way of exploring time-limited work and the group will be restricted to a maximum of six. The workshop is suitable for both qualified and trainee counsellors with some experience of brief work, experienced or trainee psychotherapists who primarily work long term but take on shortterm counselling when it arises and supervisors particularly interested in brief work.
The workshop will take place on April 21st. beginning 10.00 am at 7 Belgrave Road, Bath BA1 6LU (ten minutes walk from BCPC). The maximum group size will be six so she recommends early booking. The cost is £40 for bookings made prior to March 12th. and £50 thereafter up to April 2nd. To book you can send a cheque payable to June Hall along with your name, address, e-mail and telephone number to the address below, or contact June for a booking form. June Hall, 7 Belgrave Road, Bath, BA1 6LU. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01225 421033
Blood, sweat and sponsorship…..
Kate Hardenburg, psychotherapy student and former Association Treasurer, is running the Bath Half Marathon next month in aid of in Bath where she also works in placement.
Similarly, my daughter Jenny has been regularly turning me off my dinner with graphic pictures of injuries (black toes, bleeding toes, red toes…) while she trains to run the London Marathon in April (my concern for your own gastric sensibilities prevents me from sharing). She is running for the charity , having been moved by an article in The Guardian which stated that a huge proportion of people visiting their GP do so due to depression. Stephen Fry has just become their President. You have two ways to support her - either visit or…. Come along to where you will see me and her boyfriend - selling cup cakes, brownies, muffins and truffles all delicately made by our own fair hands in support of her efforts. So you can have laugh AND get fed for a good cause.
Kate has been regaling us with frightening stories of her gruelling training runs, braving cold, snow, sleet and mad dogs at every turn during our BCPC days. I’m sure we all agree that we are glad it’s her and not us. So instead, visit to sponsor her. It’s much less painful than actually doing the run. Even a small amount will help but if you can’t spare a few pennies, at least come along on March 11th to cheer her on.