The Mystery of Systemic Family Constellations: A New Method for Healing Transgenerational Trauma

I’ve been a member of 12 step programs for a number of decades. I credit one of them with saving my life. However, about three years ago, I found myself confronting body pain that, upon closer inspection, seemed emotionally generated: my back seized up and I couldn’t walk. This was an acute representation of physical pain that I had lived with during most of my recovery.

This kind of flare-up had happened a number of times before, yet I could never find the basic cause. This time, a friend of mine, a body-oriented somatic therapist, suggested I try “family constellations.” I wasn’t sure why I believed that it might work, yet I trusted her and soon found myself journeying out of town to participate in a workshop.

Thus began my initiation into a healing methodology developed in Germany in the last 30 years. Family Constellations has rapidly spread throughout the world, and is finally taking root in the United States, first on the coasts, and now in the midwest. Using a method somewhat akin to family systems therapy, a facilitator places representatives in the center of a circle of participants, in a constellation, to bring to light whatever dynamics surround a particular client’s issue. We call this entering the “field.”

Here is where the mystery begins, and the method parts company with family systems therapy. Instead of being given phrases to say by the facilitator, representatives tune into the field by attending to feelings, sensations, intuitions, etc., that come to them regarding their role in the constellation. They speak what they sense, and so dynamics begin to be revealed. In my case, my father’s representative looked over at the person representing me as a young girl and said, seemingly out of nowhere, “I feel like I want her approval.”

My father’s mother had died when he was six, and six of his older eight siblings died before they reached adulthood. As the facilitator explained, my father looked to me to mirror him, rather than him mirroring me. The impact of seeing this enacted in front of me was huge, resonated deeply, and eventually shifted many dynamics in my life, including in my relationship with my life partner. You may ask, did I not know about these events in my father’s life? I did, but only on the level of a newspaper story. To survive, my father split these feelings off from himself, yet unconsciously, they affected him — and me — profoundly, since he looked to me to save him in a sense.

For some people, healing from events like this can come from therapy. Family constellations are useful for situations that usual methods don’t resolve: specifically, trauma that has happened in earlier generations that is carried unconsciously by descendants. Through sensing in the field, we seem to be able to come in touch with these earlier wounds and through skilled guidance see them in a new light, leading to increased understanding for all involved and healing for ourselves.

In other words, there is an order to the way love flows in relationships. When that order is disrupted, it is often family members in subsequent generations who experience the consequences of this disruption. They unconsciously take on these consequences, unknowingly integrating them into their lives, often with detrimental results.

Family constellations can break these unconscious patterns. It can reveal hidden dynamics in a family so they can be worked with and healed. Through a family constellation, a person is shown the true origin of their problem and also new opportunities for disentanglement and resolution.

For myself, did my body pain leave? I can now say it is leaving. That first constellation opened a door into my very entangled Irish family past, the dynamics of which had happened before I was born yet which had profound, difficult consequences for my life. I now much more often feel happy joyous and (pain) free. I also now feel a calling to bring this work to more people, which I hope I can do for the rest of my working life.

Kathy Curran, Ph.D. and her life-partner Mike McElwee, Ph.D., are starting the Minnesota Center for Systemic Constellations in St. Paul. For more information on constellations, google “family constellations” or “systemic constellations” or contact Kathy Curran at 651-269-1400 or

Last Updated on February 6, 2020