Bon Voyage Bert Hellinger!
It was with profound sadness that the global Family Constellations community
learnt of the death of Bert Hellinger, developer of the modality,
who died on Thursday 19th September at the age of 93.
German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger, who was both innovative and often controversial, made this powerful therapeutic system widely popular, and is often seen as the Father of Systemic or Family Constellations. But he first encountered the work when training in the UK with Family Therapists Ruth McClendon and Leslie Kadis. They coined the term Family Constellations as it dealt with an individual’s placement within a broader cluster of family members, captured by the term “constellations”.
To avoid any confusion with Astrology, it is also now sometimes referred to as Family Systems Theory.
Anton (Bert) Hellinger was born on 16 December 1925, in Leimen, Baden, Germany to a Catholic family and attended a Catholic monastery school run by the Jesuits - the same order into which he would later be ordained as a priest. At the age of only 16 Hellinger was conscripted into the German army and experienced combat on the Western Front. In the last year of the war he was captured and imprisoned in an Allied prisoner-of-war camp in Belgium, from which he later escaped. Hellinger then entered the Catholic Order of the Jesuits, and took the name Suitbert, which is the source of the name his is known by – Bert. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Würzburg on his way to becoming a priest, after which he was sent to South Africa, where he spent 16 years working as a missionary to the Zulu in Marianhill, in what was then Natal. During this time he continued his studies at the University of Pietermaritzburg and the University of South Africa, receiving a degree and diploma which entitled him to teach at public high schools. Bert served as a parish priest as well as a teacher – later becoming headmaster of a large school. He became fluent in the Zulu language and the influence of his time with the Zulu, their rituals, honouring of ancestors and connection to the forces of nature, would shape much of what he later developed.
It was during his participation in a series of interracial, group dynamics training led by the Anglican clergy that Bert became fascinated by how reconciliation could be achieved through mutual respect, and the “phenomenological” approach - which would later become a hallmark of his work.
Hellinger is often quoted telling the story of how one of these trainers asked the group:
"What is more important to you, your IDEALS or PEOPLE? Which would you sacrifice for the other?"
This touched a deep place within Hellinger, as he was acutely aware of how the Nazi regime had sacrificed human beings in service of ideals. He said, "In a sense, the question changed my life. A fundamental orientation toward people has shaped all my work since."
After 25 years as a priest Hellinger defrocked and returned to Germany where he met and married his first wife, Herta. He spent several years training in classical psychoanalysis in Vienna and Munich. Thereafter he embarked on an exhaustive exploration of other modalities, from Eric Bern’s Transactional Analysis; Milton Erickson’s Hypnotherapy right up to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and even spent nine months in the USA studying with Arthur Janov, who had recently developed Primal Therapy. And during the ensuing decades Hellinger investigated and integrated most of the major psychotherapeutic models which have emerged in the West, as he developed, expanded and enriched the modality of Family Constellations, of which he had unceremoniously become the supreme master.
Hellinger remained a controversial personality and alienated some colleagues and supporters due to his very authoritarian manner at times. And like all innovators before him, who pushed the boundaries in their respective fields, he had his detractors and opponents. They are of little consequence to the tens of thousands of facilitators and clients who have witnessed the magical transformational power of his work being evidenced every day. Family Constellations is now practised in about 35 countries around the world and has taken on a life of its own – being enriched by the cultural influences, creativity of individual facilitators, and new insights from emerging modalities.
I was profoundly grateful to have met and spent time with Bert Hellinger while on one of his Training Intensives in Austria in 2007. As the only South African present among the hundreds of participants at the workshop, Bert had asked that I come and meet him personally. I must confess to being somewhat intimidated by the prospect. This was the man whose work I had been studying intensely for the previous 3 years and who was a “god” in my eyes at the time. We spent about a half an hour chatting, mainly about South Africa - as he remained intensely interested in the country - and hadn’t visited since the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994. I babbled nervously in answer to his questions about the training I had done in Family Constellations, as well as crime in the country – which was close to home for me as we had been held-up at gunpoint not long before.
Following our meeting, Hellinger called on me to represent in two constellations while he was facilitating. It was a truly surreal experience. I had watched many hours of Bert and his colleague Hunter Beaumont facilitating constellations – and now here I was, in the Field with the Master himself. What an unbelievable memory – and honour!
It is perhaps fitting to conclude with one of Bert Hellinger’s most famous quotes:
"Whatever is alive is incomplete and in a process of becoming.
The dead are complete.
The longing for completion is, in essence, a longing for death.
In order to stay living one must respect incompleteness.”
The longing, for Bert Hellinger is now over, and he is complete.
And so I bow with deep respect to this most profound teacher for his many gifts to the world.
And continue respecting my own incompleteness.
It was only in the 1990s, as Bert neared 70 that he began recording his Family Constellations workshops with German psychiatrist Gunthard Weber and American born psychologist Hunter Beaumont, and the transcripts started being published. Their first book, “Love’s Hidden Symmetry” is now a classic in the field and a “must have” on the bookshelf of any serious Family Constellations Facilitator.
Bert Hellinger went on to publish more than 90 books and travelled widely, delivering lectures, workshops, and training courses throughout the world. In the early 2000s Bert distanced himself from those colleagues with whom he originally formulated his work, and launched the brand which would encompass his trainings and seminars - “Hellinger sciencia”, together with his second wife Sophie Hellinger.
RICHARD ATHOL HIGGINS
Richard Higgins began his exploration of personal growth, esoteric and metaphysical subjects at the age of 21.
During the last 42 years he has been exposed a wide spectrum of teachers and belief systems.
In parallel with his career as a film and television producer and director Richard studied the work of many metaphysical teachers, and has interviewed or met amongst others Neale Donald Walsh; Deepak Chopra; Diane Cooper and David Icke.
He has studied Gregg Braden's work; Drunvalo Melchizedek's Flower of Life teachings; and Gary Smith's Sacred Merkaba Techniques. He learnt Shamanic work from, amongst others, Michael Owen of the Twisted Hair tradition, and with Incan Shamans from Peru.
Richard met J.Z. Knight and worked with Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment both in Seattle and in South Africa.
By blending the basics of Numerology, Creation Theory and Sacred Geometry, Richard has developed his own unique system called Transpersonal Numerology.
After over three decades in the film and television industry, Richard closed his production company to devote himself full time to his Numerology and to Family Constellations - the work developed by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. He facilitates workshops through his Family Healing Circle and also offers training in both modalities.
Richard lives with his artist wife Ronnie Biccard in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa.
Individual Family Constellations Sessions
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