WHAT IS FAMILY CONSTELLATIONS?
The first question I am usually asked when mentioning in conversation that I am a Family Constellations Facilitator is, “What on earth is that?”
This is sometimes followed up with, “Does it have something to do with Astrology?” or “Does my whole family have to come along?”
The answer to the latter two questions is quite simply, “No.”
The answer to the first one needs a bit more explanation.
Family Constellations is a trans-generational healing modality which explores the deep, unconscious dynamics which occur within a family system and how these often contribute to the challenges experienced in our everyday lives. A wide range of problems, even beyond family issues, can be addressed successfully through constellation work. These include: relationship difficulties; illnesses and diseases; dealing with the effects of abuse; depression and anxiety; career issues and many others.
The Traditional Model
In its formative years Family Constellations was done mainly “in-the-round”, where a group of about 15 to 20 people would sit in circle for a one day or weekend workshop. The facilitator would work directly with between 5 and 10 of the delegates in a day, depending on the theme of the workshop and the length of the constellations.
The process starts with the facilitator conducting a short interview with the client (sometimes referred to as “the issue holder”) in order to establish some family background. These questions might include:
Were there any special circumstances surrounding your birth? Where are your parents and grandparents from? How many siblings do you have? Have there been any early or unusual deaths in the family? Have there been any adoptions, miscarriages or abortions? Has there been any injustice that you know of in the family? And so on!
Based on the feedback from the client, the facilitator will identify certain themes or patterns within the family system and decide upon an entry point. The client will be asked to choose members of the circle to "represent" specific family members and to place them in the work area generally referred to as the Field. Without doing anything - simply by intention – these representatives will take on the thoughts and feelings of the family member or ancestor they are "representing". Through observation and feedback, the facilitator will be able to identify the hidden patterns that lie beneath the family story and move the constellation towards a healing resolution.
Essentially what is happening is: the representative acts as a conduit to connect with the Soul of the person they are representing - whether living or dead. At that level there is none of the “story” on which we expend so much of our daily energy – only love. By revealing the love that exists behind even some of the grizzliest human stories, we create a new picture at the Soul level. This then filters down into the person’s everyday experiences in the weeks that follow, and a new healthier script emerges.
The Individual Setting
Not all clients are comfortable dealing with personal issues in a group setting, and choose to experience the process in an individual session. Because there are no other people present to act as representatives, the facilitator makes use of props to represent the family members. Some of those used are small plastic dolls; mats or actual shoes placed on the floor, or my personal favorite, gem stones. The process differs slightly from the group setting, but is just as effective – and sometimes quite extraordinarily so.
The process can also be facilitated in such a way that the client does it “in their minds eye” by visualization of the family members. This is a particularly useful way of working over the telephone or via Skype.
It's impossible to say how many times it is necessary for a person to do a Family Constellation. Some people come once and are able to shift the issue they have presented, while others have deep traumas which may take several constellations to heal. It is best to experience one constellation and then allow some integration time before returning. For some this may be weeks, while for others it may be months.
Occasionally someone finds the work too challenging, or they are not yet ready to embrace the new "picture" that is presented. It takes a determination for real change, and courage, to do this work - but the rewards are tremendous.
In whatever way it is done, a Family Constellation is a magical and a truly unique experience. Even after over a decade of facilitating scores of workshops and hundreds of individual sessions I continue to be surprised and delighted by the power of this modality. It is at once expanding and humbling. Anyone experiencing it will probably never look at the nature of family relationships the same way ever again.
Involvement in a workshop happens at three levels:
As a member of the Circle you will experience the unique healing energy that is created, and witness other people's constellations. It is an "eye- opening" experience, and you will probably never look at the nature of family relationships the same again.
You may "represent" a member of someone's family in their constellation. Without doing anything - simply through intention - you will take on the thoughts and feelings of the family member or ancestor you are "representing". Through your feedback, the facilitator will be able to move the constellation towards a healing resolution.
You may do a personal constellation dealing with an issue that is of concern to you. This is probably unlike anything you may have experienced, and is literally "beyond words".
Training Intensive - Cape Town
My next five day Training Intensive covering the Basic Principles and Theories of Family Constellations is taking place at my home in Cape Town in October.
Fish Hoek: 27th to 31st October 2021 Fee: R 6 950
Feedback from past students
Richard is one of the most deeply experienced constellation facilitators in the country.
He has also taken immense trouble to develop training material that gives structure and definition to what otherwise might be a very ‘loose’ and subjective modality.
He combines his long-demonstrated commitment to furthering the constellation cause with the integrity and wisdom that comes from years of practice and self-searching.
He delivers that all in a well-structured and practical format, useful to beginners and advanced students of this modality.
RB - Cape Town
Not only does Richard Higgins bring his diverse knowledge of culture and history into the profound and sacred experience of family constellations, he also generously imparts a warm and distinct richness that comes from his soul, together with profound wisdom, reverence and genuine respect for all.
Richard's quirky and fun sense of humour balances the seriousness and often tangible unease of this raw healing space, with a lovely lightness of heart.
It has been an honour learning from this man whom I have great respect for and fondness.
TL – Johannesburg
Richards family constellation training has been enlightening for me.
It has deepened my understanding of systemic relationships and has given me so much more insight with my coaching clients!
Richard's open, shamanic way of teaching and holding space has allowed me to absorb the content through my heart and given me the confidence to share this modality myself.
NF – Cape Town
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Bert Hellinger died on Thursday 19th September 2019 at the age of 93.
Cape Town Graduates - June 2021
Both my partner and I have completed three of Richard’s family constellation intensives, each training more profound than the next.
His approach comes with a huge amount of experience, knowledge and integrity.
This work has deeply changed the course of my life and has had enormous benefit to both myself and my clients.
If you want to take your work to a new level of insight, then Richard is a facilitator who goes above and beyond to deliver an outstanding and life changing experience.
JG and LB – Cape Town
Richard facilitates and teaches with great strength, clarity and compassion.
The intensive is packed with learning on a practical level and beyond.
Every time I step in the field with Richard, I am inspired.
Tara Rose – Cape Town