• Family constellations therapy is an experiential method that aims to offer insight into hidden or entrenched dynamics in an individual's life

  • Therapist Sara Poss explores how family constellations works

Family constellations therapy can significantly shift perspectives on personal challenges and issues. Instead of treating troubled aspects of the self as problems to get rid of, it illuminates them as aspects longing to be seen. By delving into unseen dynamics, family constellations therapy offers fresh insights and understanding.

Family constellations therapy acknowledges the inheritance of family trauma and unresolved issues from our past. By contextualising these challenges and bringing dynamics to life, this type therapy empowers individuals to break unhelpful cycles and move towards transformation. It is an experiential process where individuals discover a renewed sense of purpose and connection, unlocking their full potential for personal growth and healing.

Bridging past and present for profound healing

Constellations work reveals that our family legacies and the dynamics they imprint within us often underlie some of our most persistent present-day challenges. Rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals, this approach considers the broader system of relationships and historical events impacting us. 

Our ancestors' experiences of war, forced migration, immigration, slavery, and other traumatic events might be linked to our inability to enjoy life, find love, or experience feelings of shame. Additionally, events such as people disappearing, early deaths, illnesses, exclusion of family members, and clashes of culture can make it difficult for us to trust our own unfolding.

By understanding these dynamics, we not only gain insight into our wider family and authentic selves, but also unlock the potential for transformative change.

The rise of constellations work

Family constellations, also known as systemic constellations, was developed by German therapist Bert Hellinger in the 1980s. Influences on family constellations therapy include practices from Zulu culture, Virginia Satir, Hunter Beaumont, Jacob L. Moreno, and other pioneers. 

Though widely embraced in Germany and other countries, it remains relatively new in the UK, gradually gaining traction, partly due shows like Netflix's Sex, Love, and Goop and Another Self, which have undoubtedly expanded its reach.

Another explanation for the increasing interest in this approach might stem from the latest insights in epigenetics. Behavioural epigenetics suggest that traumatic experiences in our past or our ancestors' past leave molecular scars on our DNA, influencing psychological and behavioural tendencies. Constellations work illuminates that our experiences, along with those of our forebears, persist, even if forgotten. They become part of us, a molecular residue adhering to our genetic scaffolding, shaping our genetic makeup and predispositions.

Workshop process

Constellations work can be experienced in group settings or one-on-one sessions.

Participation in workshops involves two roles: 'issue holders' and 'representatives'. Issue holders set up their constellations, with group members representing relevant individuals and events. Once the issue holder outlines their situation and desired outcomes, the facilitator guides the selection of representatives from the group. Representatives offer insights, creating a 'living map' that brings clarity to the issue at hand. Those representing others do not act; rather, the process unfolds spontaneously, as if they momentarily inhabit someone else's experience, which dissipates after representation.

By delving into the broader family system, family constellations workshops empower individuals to recognise hidden dynamics. This newfound insight offers a pathway to greater freedom and agency, enabling participants to navigate personal challenges, enhance relationships, and overcome emotional distress.

Whether seeking answers for oneself or participating in the constellations work of others, workshops offer a unique opportunity for fresh perspectives, profound insights, and healing experiences, surpassing the boundaries of traditional therapy.

In one-on-one sessions, figures, objects or markers are used instead of real individuals. Though a different process, it is still effective.

Who is it for?

Family constellations workshops and one-on-one work provide a safe, confidential, and nurturing environment to address a wide range of persistent issues, including personal relationships, family conflicts, work-related challenges, and emotional distress. 

People often seek out constellations work when they want to heal trauma, feel ready to step into their full potential, would like to gain clarity and understanding of a situation or issue, find courage to rise to new challenges or are looking for personal development.

The work can uncover the root cause of current problems, often traced back to past generations. This gives participants valuable insight and healing, helping them grow and change in powerful ways.

Constellation work can be very supportive and complementary with other ongoing psychotherapeutic, spiritual, or personal development work. It can help to create motion when a client feels stuck in ongoing therapy and is, in fact, often recommended as a next step by many practitioners. 

Sara Poss is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist in North West London and online. Sara also facilitates family constellations workshops. 

Watch Dr Mariel Buqué on the impact of intergenerational trauma:

Further reading

Family constellations: The invisible ties that bind us

Learn about different types of therapy