Published in Crearte Magazine, www.creartemagazine.com, May 2012
Many people have difficult and painful family stories, perhaps with unresolved trauma. At least mine had them. Thanks to the constellations, I have found explanations and new perspectives and they helped me find peace. These family dynamics can cause diseases? It seems hard to believe and it is so. I saw touching examples during a workshop of Stephan Hausner in Barcelona, a German facilitator who uses family constellations in the area of healthcare. I was impressed by his respectful way to treat his clients and his ability to create an environment with the group that was free of judgment and his way to treat painful and difficult situations with love. After this impressive experience, I was glad about having had the opportunity to do an interview with him to present his valuable work:
What is a family constellation?
This is not an easy question. If you ask different facilitators, there will be as many different answers as people who you’ve asked. Actually, I do not use the term “family constellation” so often, I have replaced it by “systemic constellation” because my work is in the first step about families, but also beyond families. The constellations dig up how the traumas of our ancestors to whom we are bound by destiny, survive and influence the lives of descendants. Bert Hellinger opened the way for this method. My image of a constellation is that, among other things, it makes visible an internal process. I use this work frequently in a medical context because this corresponds to my experience.
How did you discover family constellations for your work?
I am working for 25 years as a homeopath and my original interest was the traditional Chinese medicine and the ancient Greek medicine. Both are medicines that try to discover what is in disorder in the body through a diagnostic system and try to restore order by putting an appropriate stimulus. I devoted myself to homeopathy for a long time and the constant search to reduce the treatment processes and to understand the disease and healing phenomena led me to a conference where I met Bert Hellinger and discovered his work. When I heard him talking about the order in family systems it was easy for me to connect these ideas with the understanding of health of traditional medicines, in the way that a disorder in the family system may create difficulties in daily life and working with constellations is the chosen method to reveal it.
Working with constellations means that I have the possibility to constellate a system of relationships with representatives physically in a room and then something happens that no one can really explain until now: the representatives feel like the real people. It still cannot be explained why this is so, but it is proven again and again that it is so and you can work with the dynamics and movements that appear there. So you can see unhealthy links in a family system and which connections are healthy. Through the therapeutic process it is possible to restore order in the system again so that the unhealthy links can turn into healthy connections.
What is systemic medicine?
For me, one of the most important observations of working with constellations with diseases is that a disease is not a personal phenomenon. Many diseases can only be understood when they are observed in a broader context. Systemic medicine means for me that there are diseases that must be understood by extending the system and through this larger system new spaces can be opened so that healing movements can emerge.
What fascinates you?
I consider working with constellations as especially suitable if good methods of treatment have not yet shown the expected success. I often meet patients who are in the hands of good doctors. However, they do not get better. Many times this is a sign that family dynamics are working behind this disease. I collaborate with a homeopathic pediatrician for many years, and if she does not achieve the desired effects with the children, she sends their parents to make a constellation with me. After the parents made a constellation, it happens many times that the homeopathic remedy that before has not worked suddenly starts working. What fascinates me above all is that this work addresses the power of self-healing of the patients and ideally it is a medical activity without the use of medication. Actually, it is a form of relational medicine.
What are diseases that often have an origin in the family dynamics?
I think that a disease always has multifactorial aspects. Multifactorial means that there is a physical, emotional and spiritual component and probably also a family component. Basically you can work for all diseases with a constellation, but it is not necessarily useful for all. Constellations are useful for chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases, allergies, cancers, and when good treatments do not show the desired effect.
What is the potential of the constellations for the patient?
For me, it is essential to recognize that a disease is not a personal phenomenon of the sick person, but that many diseases can only be understood and treated if they are considered in a broader context, such as the family. In this way parents can alleviate their children. One of the most common dynamic in a constellation with diseases is to show that children are willing to carry a lot out of love for their parents, i.e. all the unresolved traumas that are still living in the family.
What are the limits?
One limit that is valid for all medical treatment is that the work can only be as good as the person who is doing it. It is not only about technique, but also about attitude and about body work which, in my opinion, is not adequately taken into consideration in constellations. My advantage is that I’ve been working with kinesiology for years. So I can feel in the client’s body if his body goes with what he expresses and what he says or not.
Another observation we make is that constellations are often about contents that were excluded and many symptoms remember contents that were excluded from one’s own biography or the family story. Deep down of the exclusion is an excessive demand in a traumatic situation in which you did not have sufficient resources to address this issue in a good way. The exclusion is a form of self-protection to survive. The experience is that these unresolved contents do not keep quiet, but are shown in the body or sometimes enter in later generations as children or grandchildren and show up as symptoms. In this aspect, an important limit is the customer himself: to what extent is it possible for the customer to open his heart to what he lives in the constellation. Finally, it is an integration process. You also have to say that it is a step-by-step procedure and an approach to that what was formerly experienced as dramatic and traumatic. It is about the freeing of the force that was tied up to the trauma and, ideally, this what was tied up will later become a special resource.
What role do you have as facilitator in the constellation?
When I got in touch with the constellations I was already firmly convinced that in cases where healing takes place, it is in the end self-healing. If you get to this point as a doctor, one has to ask himself, what can I actually do for the client? Perhaps, you succeed in creating an environment in which the forces of self-healing take effect perfectly. That was already my desire before and when I encountered the constellations, I realized that it is a good way to create this atmosphere of self-healing with a group. In the end, everything in the constellation is perception and attitude. The facilitator must be able to create an environment with the group where everyone feels that he can open up and that nobody will judge you for what has been brought to light. This is a great responsibility of the facilitator. You also have to master the technique, you need a good perception and at the same time you should be with both feet on the ground. I would like to add something here. In my opinion, the working with constellation has one problem: you can constellate everything and there will always appear something. And sometimes the movements of the representatives can induce traumatic processes that later over-strain the client again and re-traumatize him. The facilitator should be trained to have a constant contact and a constant attention with the client, so that he can prepare everything that is showing up in the constellation for the client so that the client can integrate the important things. So, on one hand, the facilitator prepares the field as a gardener and promotes the growth processes, on the other side he acts as a mediator between the events of the constellation and the client so that the client can make a proper integration process.
Is there an experience that has impressed you in particular?
I want to share a case of a 35-year old man who was suffering of high blood pressure for three years. When I asked if something happened in his life three years ago, he said that the company where he was working suddenly went bankrupt and he had to find a new job, he confessed that he felt like “they had taken his life “.
I asked if anything had happened in his relationship with his father. The patient was reluctant and said, “when I was 17, my father left my mother!” I asked if he was angry with him, “yes, because I had to take his position.” To not go into detail of his anger I chose to change to the objective level, “Often the hidden family dynamic of patients with hypertension is a love that is or has to be repressed.” The patient was moved by statement: “I always loved my father, but I felt that I was not allowed to because he had done so much damage to my mother. “At this point, I asked the patient to choose three representatives for his father, his mother and himself. The patient positioned his representative next to his mother and the father’s representative a little apart of both. When I asked the representatives to follow their impulses, the representative of the father turned his back to his wife and to his son resignedly. The impression was that he had no chance with his wife. The representative of the mother said it was too much and that her son was too close. She made a clear step back and felt noticeably better with the greater distance. The representative of the patient, however, followed immediately. The representative of the mother breathed again heavily when her son was at her side and took several steps back. When the son wanted to follow her, she gave him a serious look to make it clear that she did not want him to follow. Her family history revealed that the mother lost her father when she was five years old and with this loss on her history she found it hard to get tied up with her family and to allow closeness.
I turned to the patient and asked, who was always responsible for the difficulties in the relationship of your parents? He immediately answered: “My father!” I gave him time to reflect and I asked again: And what do you see reflected in the constellation? The patient replied, my mother. I asked the patient to look to his father and say, “Dear father, I’m sorry, I was not free!” He cried when he repeated the phrase. The father’s representative approached the patient instantly and embraced him. The patient cried in the arms of his father and held his hand to his heart. Again and again he said: It hurts a lot. The representative of his father grabbed him and said: “It’s good, everything is fine”, the representative of the mother was relieved watching at the child in the arms of his father. She looked at them both benevolently. At the end of the course, the man said: “As much as my heart ached in the arms of my father, something is resolved. Now I feel a lightness that I have never known before”.
This case shows an impressive change of perspective. Initially, the father was guilty and responsible for all the suffering and during the constellation the patient could see that it was related to the mother because she had lost her father so early.
How I can know that it might be good for me to make a constellation?
There are several possibilities. You can read my book Even if it costs me my life, it is written as a journey and if you’re free to open the heart to the written processes, you activate processes in yourself and you can recognize where you are in a similar situation and what steps could be a solution for you. It was my desire to write this book as self-help book. There are many examples so that everyone can learn from the difficulties of others and, above all, find processes to solve problems. Ideally you participate as an observer in a group of constellations and examine these processes in greater detail from a safe distance and allow yourself to be moved. This will produce one or another question that will be important to you and for your own growth process.
Is there a healing attitude? If so, what is it?
In many cases it is about excluded content that is part of one’s own biography or the family history. My impression is that you can already start to establish changes in attitude if you open up to these taboo subjects, these difficult issues that are traumatic or heavy, benevolently from a safe distance and recognize them as realities. Finally, it is about accepting what happened with the consequences it had. Many diseases arise when someone holds on to a reality that is different from what reality really was, and if this fight against reality ends new spaces will open up in which healing processes can take place.
What role do you wish for constellations in the healthcare environment?
I think it’s a great tragedy today that you can write a clinical history for years or decades in a so-called “developed” country without anyone raising the question of what really happened in the family. Anyone can probably understand that the death of the mother during the own birth produces an emotion of incredible guilt in one’s life that can manifest in emerging of an illness or symptoms. My wish would be that a kind of “critical mass” is achieved so that a disease is no longer seen as a personal phenomenon, but perhaps as family dynamics, and above all that a form of “health education” comes into the schools to teach the children the importance that a disease can have on family systems and what would be the necessary treatment. Right now I am collecting keywords that are related to health in my opinion. The words that come into my mind spontaneously are identity, authenticity, connection and presence. For me, it would be revolutionary if these concepts were present in classrooms in relation to the appearance of diseases and perhaps also to the prevention of disease.
Is there anything you would like to add?
It is my great desire that the work of the constellations in the area of “Health and Disease” occupies its place and that the possibilities can be explored and the limits are recognized and that it has its place in therapy. I also want to thank Bert Hellinger for opening the way for this method.
>Many thanks to Stephan Hausner for this interview!
Written by Natalie Jovanic
Article was published in May 2012 in Crearte Magazine, www.creartemagazine.com