What is family constellation therapy and how does it work? 

Family constellation therapy is a type of alternative family therapy which can offer a new approach when all other methods have failed. It’s based on the notion that problems are passed down through generations and ultimately cause stress.

By considering our emotions and perceptions from someone else’s point of view, we’re able to break out of the patterns which result in our suffering. Working through our family constellation provides us with the knowledge and insight we need to determine the cause of our problems and solve them.

Important note

Bert Hellinger’s work is the cornerstone of today’s family constellation therapy. He was part of a German family that survived WWII without giving up their moral values. Because a lot of his works were produced only in his native language, his extremely controversial views are often unknown by people who don’t speak German.

His views are heavily patriarchal, placing great value on antiquated stereotypes and gender roles. He also considered homosexuality a “disease” which needed to be cured and held several anti-Semitic views.

With this in mind, it’s important to understand that family constellation therapy doesn’t need to involve any of these views. While Hellinger supported them in his workshops, today’s family constellation therapy sessions are created with a much more modern and inclusive approach.

How does it work?

Unlike other forms of family therapy, family constellation therapy is often attended by a single family member or a couple who is having problems with other members of the family. No other family members are present or have any involvement.

During a session, a workshop takes place between a group of individuals who are not related, but who all want to improve issues in their own families. They focus on one family’s problems at a time.

While workshopping, each person in the group takes on the role of a member of the family, including the original family member or couple (known during the session as the “seeker” or “seekers”) who approached the therapist with their problem.

The individuals only know a little bit about the family members they represent. Their job is to empathize with their character and, using their personal perception coupled with the information received, describe how they feel. 

It’s the seeker’s job to watch the imitation family and listen to the members. By doing so, they’re able to observe fresh family dynamics and make connections they may not have considered before. As the individuals standing in for other family members only know limited information, they’re able to offer new insights and suggestions.

Many seekers find this an enlightening experience which allows them to see their personal situation from a new perspective. The emotions shared by the people taking part in the workshop often shed light on problems which the seeker was previously oblivious to.

It’s not only the seeker who benefits from family constellation therapy — the others standing in for family members can profit, too. They gain the opportunity to recognize sides of themselves and their family unit they never previously considered and may learn more about their own personal situation or trauma they’re trying to resolve.

Is it effective?

Family constellation therapy is based on the belief that every family member, regardless of age, yearns to feel significant and discover their place within the family dynamic. People who take part in sessions often have significantly emotional reactions in terms of their relationships with other family members.

Most people opt for family constellation therapy because it’s much shorter than other forms of counseling. Issues can often be addressed after a single session, in comparison to other types of family therapy which can last weeks or months. It also has the advantage of addressing issues in which other family members are involved, without requiring their presence.

This type of alternative counseling views the family as a system and considers each individual’s role in that system. It works by exploring family relationships which go back generations and discovering how they affect the present.

Many parts of our lives are affected by family systems with unspoken rules and regulations. Problems often arise when people fail to follow the rules — whether or not they’re aware of what they’re doing. The roots family constellation therapy explores are often ones that no longer work for us, are not healthy and may not even be accurate in today’s world.

The following concerns can all be addressed with success through family constellation therapy:

  • Harmful or negative patterns in relationships
  • Desire to be in a romantic relationship
  • Want to resolve family complications
  • Need to overcome inner turmoil
  • Problems following significant loss or trauma
  • Striving for personal or professional success

Depression, anxiety and substance abuse can also be improved through family constellation therapy. These common issues are often the result of a genetic predisposition or learned behaviors which can continue on through multiple generations.

Family constellation therapy can determine if current problems and unwanted behaviors are based upon issues from previous generations. With this information, it’s easier to work on problems and resolve them for a better quality of life and improved relationships with other family members.

Despite there only being a limited number of studies, research suggests that family constellation therapy is effective at improving mental health. Additional studies show that it continues to have mid- and long-term effects, long after the session or sessions have ended.

Even when family constellation therapy doesn’t fully solve the problems presented, it can still be helpful. Some people who take part in even a single session report gaining a new understanding about their family members and the problems they’re facing. With this fresh perspective, they’re able to return to their family units and heal their relationships on their own.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the techniques used in family constellation therapy?

Family Constellation Therapy involves representing family members or elements in a group setting, revealing hidden dynamics and conflicts. Through positioning and interactions, therapists aim to resolve issues, releasing emotional entanglements, and facilitating healing within family systems, though its scientific validation remains controversial.

What is family constellation in adlerian therapy?

Family constellation in Adlerian therapy refers to the roles individuals adopt within their family of origin, shaping their behaviors and beliefs. Understanding these roles helps clients gain insight into their issues and work toward healthier relationships and self-improvement.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741