Preparing for the Family Constellation

For the Family Constellation I booked three three-hour appointments for the whole family, spanning a little over one week in July 2006, as Dr. Stern was leaving on vacation shortly after that. I had done all the groundwork by creating a family tree, starting with Chris, Alex, and Taylor and working back four generations on both sides of the family, up to and including Ian’s and my grandparents. I wrote a short paragraph for Dr. Stern on what I knew about the lives of each of our ancestors, focusing on the disappointments or tragedies of the individuals. Where I felt I did not have enough information, I asked other members of my family for help.

I had faith that Family Constellation Therapy was the missing link for which I had been searching. I truly felt that if magic was going to happen for Chris, then this therapy would make it happen. I took Dr. Klinghardt’s and others observations to heart, that schizophrenia was a manifestation of a magical belief system. This belief system may come in part from beliefs that have been passed from generation to generation within the family. This belief system could also be thought of as the family energy field. The traumas of the present generation merely reflect the beliefs of the previous generations. In the specific context of schizophrenia, it is thought that the person with schizophrenia is particularly susceptible to feeling an ancestral burden.

In Family Constellation Therapy it is helpful to know the broad picture of the members of the family tree going back four or five generations: who died young and/or tragically; who might have benefited at someone else’s expense; who stepped aside so that others could join the family (e.g. a previous husband or wife,) who went to prison; who was the black sheep, and so on. Include as family members all known miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, and first wives or husbands. This is no time to be shy or to try to hide the truth. An experienced psychiatrist will sense if something in the constellation is hidden.

Ian’s and my family tree included paternal uncles who died early, one two days after birth in 1903 or 1908 and one who died at the age of three in 1924. I was struck by the fact that my father’s brother was buried in the family plot along with his parents who died years later, but he was unnamed and one of the dates on his grave appeared to be wrong. According to the gravestone, he was either five years old or two days old when he died. We knew it to be two days, so one of the numbers on the gravestone was wrong or else just eroded over time. In Family Constellation terms, not naming a baby and having the wrong death date on the gravestone denies the baby his rightful place in the family memory. On Ian’s side of the family, Ian’s father was given the same name as an older brother who died, as if the older brother was replaced by the younger one. What impact, I wondered, would that have on the family energy field?

My father’s father died when my father was eight years old. Ian’s paternal grandfather fought in World War I and came home with injuries, later developing an alcoholism that left a mark on the family. Ian’s maternal grandparents were divorced, which precipitated a flood of divorces in the generations that followed.

My maternal grandmother died in 1923 when my mother was four. She was my grandfather’s second wife, so I included the first wife (who ceded her position to my grandmother by dying) in the tree as well.

The past impinging on the present is an observation that is not new (ask any writer), but to me, who never gave it much thought in the context of my own family, it was breaking new territory. Looked at from the perspective of the dashed plans and hopes of previous generations, the feeling of sadness was overwhelming.

Family Constellation Therapy

In the final weeks of Chris’s attendance at the day program, I began in earnest to look for a psychiatrist who practiced Family Constellation Therapy. Given the special circumstances of our geographical location, it took a while to find that person. After a number of months, I found Dr. Maria Stern, a trilingual psychotherapist with a practice in our city.

Family Constellation Therapy and shamanic healing operate at level 4 of the healing pyramid. Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt speaks of level 4 as the intuitive level, the realm of dreams, trance, meditative states, out-of-body experiences, and the collective unconscious. Level 5, the peak of the healing pyramid, is the spiritual level, the realm of your personal relationship with a higher power, call it God, if you will. No shaman or doctor of priest can help you at level five. Healing at this level is up to you.

Family Constellation Therapy, also know as Systemic Family Therapy, was developed by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. It is based on the premise that all members of a family, living and dead, have the right to their place in the family tree. If someone is denied this right to belong through an untimely death, imprisonment, or perhaps being the family “black sheep” another family member will (usually unknowingly and often generations later) exclude him or herself as an act of atonement for the injustice.

Bert Hellinger writes that many of us unconsciously “take on” destructive familial patterns of guilt, pain, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and even illness as a way of belonging or being loyal to our families. Bonded by a deep love, a child will often sacrifice his own best interests in a vain attempt to ease the suffering or solve the “unfinished business” of another family member. As Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung famously observed, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

According to Dr. Klinghardt, schizophrenia often has its roots at the fourth level of healing because schizophrenics are particularly sensitive to these familial exclusions or injustices and will act out the role of victim. Dr. Klinghardt maintains that if schizophrenia is not cured at the physical level (level 1), it is usually because the issues lie at level 4. According to the Family Constellation theory, the root of the issue is almost always found three or four generations removed from the present. The parents and current family environment aren’t directly responsible for the origins of the schizophrenia, but they are implicated because of the way the parent might unconsciously deal in the present with the aftermath of the family event from the past. I see this as yet another example of how an energy imbalance might be expressed within the family.

What is particularly compelling about Family Constellation Therapy is that it can put to rest so-called family curses or stop recurring patterns of illness or destructiveness from being passed from generation to generation.

The list of therapies

Psychiatrists say that single events can be over-determined. Rather than there being one reason and only one reason for something happening, there can be multiple explanations for a single event. Chris’s current hospitalization is not the result of a single event. The obvious explanation to the well meaning outsider is that he needed his medications.

The less obvious explanations arise from what had been happening in Chris’s life over the months leading up to this crisis. Despite the vitamin support that had worked so well for him before, during and after he stopped his medications, something scary was now happening. He dropped his classes, stopped his voice lessons, rambled frequently off-topic, and tested the patience of his family and friends alike. It had all the hallmarks of a return of his psychosis. Did I mention he was angry? He started to express anger for the first time in his life. He scraped the flesh off his knuckles by driving his fist so hard into the wall.

Chris has yet to offer a definitive explanation as to why this recent crisis has happened. He does say he truly missed his younger brother Taylor, who went away to university about the same time that Chris started to change. My husband and I say that we pushed him too hard to think about returning to university full time. Our expectations likely frightened him. Other people had expectations, too. Chris’s voice teacher encouraged him to fulfill his considerable potential as a vocalist. I believe that Chris is struggling with the implications of what it means to become well.

I remain convinced that this crisis is a necessary passage for Chris. He is on a more solid platform this time around and will continue to grow in health, thanks to the following:

1. Orthomolecular medicine
2. Medication, when necessary, in low doses and for short duration
3. Energy medicine/EFT/Visualizations
4. Assemblage Point shift and shamanic rituals
5. Magnetic therapy
6. Cathartic psychotherapies/e.g. Family Constellation Therapy
7. The Alexander Technique (not a therapy in the standard sense)
8. The Tomatis Method
9. Psychoacoustics and bioharmonic resonance
10. Time and understanding

In the coming days I will discuss these interventions and more.