When I first "got" the value of family constellations -- and what I've learned since
By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
It’s important for me to take every opportunity to deepen my connection with constellation work, whether they are discussions with colleagues, intensive trainings and national conferences. Every event brings new inspiration and stimulates me to gracefully share and teach these powerful experiential methods that heal long-standing ancestral patterns and are truly life changing.
This is why I advocate – and plan to attend – the upcoming 2015 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Nov. 12-15 in San Diego. The opportunity to have thoughtful conversations about this emerging philosophy and how it's growing in the United States, Canada and Mexico continues to help me to refine my relationship with this wonderful work.
A recent conversation helped me remember that when I first really “got” the value of the constellation approach, there was a minute when I was ready to toss out all of my other modalities and focus solely on constellations. The other modalities, which I loved, studied and had successfully employed for years, suddenly seemed so clunky compared to the elegance and simplicity of constellations.
Fortunately for me and the people I work with, this attitude didn’t last very long. Because – the truth is that one size does not fit all.
It seemed that some of my clients thought that constellations were just the strangest thing:
One woman, willing to come to one group session because of the referral from her chiropractor, sat in the circle and watched what was happening with big eyes. As the session progressed, one representative fell to the floor, her eyes became wider – and scared. This woman considered psychotherapy as talk, not as having people fall to the floor and lay there while other people walked about, seemingly uninterested. When I circled around the field near to her seat, she whispered to me, “Why is that person lying on the floor?”
I saw that some people were clinging so completely to their “stories” that they could not permit a new story, a new vision, a new perspective into their world. They insisted on repeating the same story and when they saw a different image in the field, they didn’t want to accept it:
In another group, a woman disclosed that she always “felt” like she had a sibling, even though she was raised as an only child. All right, I said, let’s take a look at that picture. A sibling representative was introduced into the setting, and sure enough, the mother representative became entranced, lost into her connection with the absent sibling. The representative for the client was sad, withering, alone, bowed. My client, watching from her seat, blurted out that she didn’t like that picture. A missing sibling had been always painful to think about, and now it was even more painful to look, and she resisted any kind of resolution.
I discovered that others, including those who intellectually understood the value of experiential therapies and had benefited from other types of experiential work, could not seem to be in or near the field and hold the energy comfortably. It was too big and uncertain and they were not stabilized enough in their personal energy fields.
It quickly became apparent that I needed to titrate the amount of constellations that I prescribed to each client – and keep wise about which clients to refer to group and which not, which clients to Skype with and which ones to meet in person. I identified clients that needed to learn how to stabilize their personal energies before they were able to safely sense energies on behalf of others. Others needed to learn mindfulness to slow their thoughts to discern the energetic experiences. I began to notice how I could weave constellation approach with my beloved modalities – psychodrama, sand tray, Tarot, ritual, art-making, guided imagery, meditation, sociometric activity and the like.
Sometimes my “intervention” is ordinary discussion: for instance, when a single mother tells me that she hates her ex-husband, the father of her male child, and does not understand why her son is depressed, angry and getting into trouble, I can ask her to consider if she “loves” the part of the son who is the father. And might the son sense that he is only partially loved?
In a recent teleconference discussion with Michael Reddy’s Constellations Conversation series, we discussed that there are only a handful of people supporting themselves as full-time constellation facilitators in the United States. Maybe that is not a problem. May be that is as it should be, for now. Maybe it is even a very good thing, this seeming U.S. trend of professionals integrating the constellation approach into their work as coaches, therapists, consultants, educators, bodyworkers, chiropractors and the like.
More people may be actually making contact with the work and figuring out how to incorporate it into their professional practices. And the trainers will have more people to train, because becoming a full-time facilitator with good-enough training is a daunting task.
Yet, as we are also saying in our conversations, let’s continue to become clear about exactly what we are incorporating – and when we are doing constellation work and when we are not – and the value that we communicate to others.
And let it all be for the good of the people we are working with.
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Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is an author, trainer and psychotherapist who promotes, practices and teaches experiential methods including psychodrama, Family and Systemic Constellations, mindfulness and Tarot imagery.