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Dancing with Souls

category national | sci-tech | news report author Friday May 12, 2006 20:37author by Florian Burkhardt - Griffith College, Dublinauthor email florian_burkhardt at yahoo dot de Report this post to the editors

The pros and cons of a new psychotherapeutic method

My article is about the worldwide spread (including to Ireland) of a new form of potentially dangerous type of psychotherapy. It has reached Ireland from Germany via the UK where it is already a huge business. The new development is that followers of this semi-cult want to apply it to politics and other social areas.

Dancing with souls: the therapists moves representatives
Dancing with souls: the therapists moves representatives

“I am your dead brother. There’s a place for you here and I will wait for you.” There is a moment of silence, and everyone is choking and holding their breath. My mind starts racing. I think, oh my god, if the man on the ground goes on like that, this woman will commit suicide. “But for now, I want you to live your life and have fun.” Brenda’s mouth is forming a smile, as if she can finally believe these words. I am relieved that she’s been helped. She looks a great deal happier than yesterday, when I first met her.

This was the most memorable moment I had of a new, very powerful psychotherapeutic treatment called “family constellation”, which I witnessed at a weekend workshop at the Sunyata Centre in Co. Clare. With this therapy, practitioners claim to be able to find a solution to an array of psychological conditions and family problems, ranging from depression to personality kinks. But where does this method come from and how does it work?
Family constellation therapies reached Ireland from Germany via the UK only around five years ago.

So far, a couple in Cork, who also run the website www.ochre.ie, are the only therapists with a permanent family constellation practice in Ireland. Yet, the method is clandestinely spreading all around the country with therapists regularly coming from the UK and Germany for weekend workshops and conferences.
Heiner Eisenbarth, the organiser of the constellation workshop in Clare, describes a constellation this way: “A “client” and the facilitator talk a while about the client’s issue and his family, and then he chooses people from the group to represent the various elements of the constellation, usually people or abstracts, and sets up the initial constellation. In a constellation, the representatives often have experiences and feelings that reflect the client’s situation and are quite similar to those of the person they represent.

The facilitator then moves and asks the representatives to endeavor to find a solution.”
For representatives to have the feelings of other people, even of long-dead ancestors, they enter what therapists call a “knowing field”.

Constellation Practitioners claim that there is a sort of universal soul that stores all the world’s emotional information and is tapped within this field during a constellation. As an observing, though skeptical journalist, I also agreed to enter several constellations during the workshop. Some of the feelings that I had during those constellations were not my own, and I cannot explain their origin. It felt as if you could tune on a TV set and watch your deepest family relations unfold, with the therapist holding the remote control.

How this knowing field comes to exist has always been a secret (even to me) and its existence has never been scientifically proven. Experts say that the concept of “knowing fields” has most likely developed out of tribal rituals in South Africa, where Mr. Bert Hellinger, the German founder of the therapy movement, spent some time as a Catholic missionary.

Two, sometimes worrying aspects of the method are the incredible power of the therapist and the method’s reliance on the so-called “Orders of Love”, a set of guidelines for healthy family constellations, which are largely based on ancient notions from the Old Testament. Two such rules that troubled me, during my research and in interviews with practitioners, are that the wife should succumb to the husband and that the first-born child has preference over any other child.
For example, if a family constellation reveals the sexual abuse of a child, the guilt is put on the mother in the family in some cases, presuming that she had not given enough love to her husband. In other cases, the child simply has to accept the rape as fact, despite the huge emotional burden.

According to a web-blog entry, the representative of an abused child once had to kneel down in front of the father’s representative, and ask for forgiveness, saying: “I thank you Dad, I am very grateful to have been able to do this for you.”

In Germany, there were already 2,000 registered constellation practitioners in 2003. However, Bert Hellinger has increasingly come under fire from journalists and psychologists for his therapeutic approach.

In Ireland, as in most of the 25 countries where family constellations are available, critical analysis of the method does not take place.

Mike Garde, director of Dialogue Ireland, an organisation which watches the development of new movements in religion and psychology, says he has never heard of family constellations.
In 1997, a woman from the German city of Leipzig committed suicide after a mass constellation session in Northern Germany, headed by Bert Hellinger. And there is also rising suspicion about the personal background of Hellinger, especially as it transpired in 2004 that he had bought a villa which once belonged to Adolf Hitler.

Hellinger, a former German soldier and priest, has also made various anti-Semitic and fascist statements in public and wrote a controversial poem to the deceased Hitler.
But the attractiveness of the system is still growing worldwide. This year, Hellinger will be heading conferences in Poland, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. It all is very lucrative for Hellinger and his colleagues: the typical attendance fee for a conference is around 400 US dollars. Hellinger has also sold more than half a million books and videos on family constellations.

In some Latin American countries, his teachings seem to be filling a void that the weakening of the Catholic church has left behind and have been incorporated in education and politics. In Brazil, Hellinger will give a seminar on organisational constellations in the country’s health ministry and in Mexico City there are several institutes which apply his theories all the way from kindergarten to university.

The German city of Würzburg will soon be hosting the Third International Conference on the Resolution of Large Group Conflicts. Run by one of Hellinger’s followers, Dr. Albrecht Mahr - with guest speakers from all around the world, the conference will focus on the use of large-scale constellations and the “knowing field” in politics and national conflict resolution.
Whether this controversial method will become accepted in Ireland is almost out of the question. And most constellation practitioners are convinced that the future potential of constellation work and the “knowing field” is huge.

In an email, practitioner Vivian Broughton wrote: “I don’t think we yet know the extent to which this method of diagnosis, clarifying and problem-solving is usable… those boundaries are yet to be reached.”



Sources:
participants of a family constellation workshop at the Sunyata Centre in Co. Clare
www.ochre.ie
www.hellinger.com
Breda Perrem, family constellation therapist, Cork
Heiner Eisenbarth, family constellation therapist, Brighton
Martin Buchholz, German journalist from Zeit newspaper, edition 35/2003
www.xs4all.nl/~afa/alert/engels/hellinger_e.html
Mike Garde, director of Dialogue Ireland
Franz Ruppert, family constellation therapist, Munich
Vivian Broughton, family constellation therapist, Somerset

Related Link: http://www.xs4all.nl/~afa/alert/engels/hellinger_e.html

Somel constellations can involve the "awakening" of the dead.
Somel constellations can involve the "awakening" of the dead.

Part of the therapy involves symbolically honouring the dead
Part of the therapy involves symbolically honouring the dead

Often, chairs and other objects are brought in as props or support.
Often, chairs and other objects are brought in as props or support.

author by Anthonypublication date Sat May 13, 2006 17:33Report this post to the editors

I hadn't previously heard of this dubious practice. It's good to see people publishing taking the time to check things out for themselves, doing their own research on a subject and publishing the conclusions of their experiences.

The article however suffers from bad formatting making it harder to read than it should be. Paragraph breaks in between each paragraph would render it much more readable.

Good referencing would also make a better article e.g. "According to a web-blog entry [1]," with a corresponding [1] next to the appropriate URL in the list of sources. Most Indymedia readers are properly dubious of just blindly accepting facts - whether in print or on the web. It's best to state the sources for each piece of second-hand information being presented and better again to state the background and context of those sources.

author by Jamespublication date Sat May 13, 2006 21:09Report this post to the editors

I really find this disturbing. Having suffered from psychological problems myself I fear this therapy could make some worse off. I think I saw other criticisms of similar treatments and I will try to find links.

author by jack whitepublication date Sun May 14, 2006 14:56Report this post to the editors

Its allways great to see some original rporting on indymedia. Fair play.

author by LEpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 18:05Report this post to the editors

Although my time (and money) for new age stuff only goes so far it is a pity that most 'cultwatch' organisations are actually Chrisitian organisations like Dialogue Ireland http://www.esatclear.ie/~dialogueireland/ so anything that rejects god or is too pagan or Eastern come in for criticism by them.

author by ibrahimpublication date Mon May 15, 2006 18:12Report this post to the editors

its very intresting, the only problem is the layout of the article, made it very hard to read, but its good to see something new, well done

author by joseph - gmcpublication date Wed May 17, 2006 12:44Report this post to the editors

This is yet another dubious organisation!!! Good bit of reporting though. I've never heard of this crowd.FAIR PLAY!

author by Spinning Quicklypublication date Wed May 17, 2006 21:17Report this post to the editors

I agree that the motivation of the alleged "cult watchers" should be examined - they can be very sneaky about their real agenda.

On the other hand, I am a bit disturbed to see people all too uncritically accepting "new age" ideas. Many of them have little or no basis in fact and can at least waste vital time. There are other kinds of myth - e.g. we only use 10% of our brains. (Oddly, I have yet to hear of someone who wants the remaining 90% removed!) that are widely believed.

author by Franz Ruppert - Professor of Psychology, KSFH Munichpublication date Thu Jun 22, 2006 23:45author email professor at franz-ruppert dot deReport this post to the editors

In this article the author does not differentiate between the method of constellation as a psychotherapeutic tool, the theory that is used by the therapist when applying such a method an the person of the therapist itself. If one abuses a knife, that is not the failure of the knife itself. As I work with the constellation method more than 10 years I can say this is a very powerful tool to help people to understand much more better their psychological conditions and to find help even for very servere psychiatric illnesses. So I find it necessary not do discredit the method by spreading prejudices about the persons that use the method. Bert Hellinger is everything but a Nazi-supporter.

Related Link: http://www.franz-ruppert.de
author by Tom O'Sullivanpublication date Fri Aug 04, 2006 14:25Report this post to the editors

The writer here is makes a lot claims - I'm not saying they're not true, but the journalist is obviously very biased against the therapy & doesnt write objectively, using words like "clandestinely spreading", "semi-cult". I don't see grounds for "clandestine" or for "cult" for that matter.

I always think if the information is there why not let it speak for itself. For example the in the "Orders of love". I just did a google search on it & I wouldn't subscribe to the hierarchical family idea either (ie first born most important, male having first place - in service to the female - now that should all be chucked out the window by the sounds of it ! )

But to talk about the whole thing as "dangerous" just doesn't make any sense to me. Then theres very vague claims made against the founder which would need to be referenced as Anthony in comment 1 suggests (I have no idea about the truth of the claims, especially as the writer seems so biased). And as for buying a house Hitler once owned, well I guess he probably owned a few ... seems like someone trying to blacken someones name... Again, why not let the really important info speak for itself?

The writer admits to the therapy being effective, is that partly why its so scary ...?
I'm not even particularly pro this therapy, but it does seem a lot more effective than most (probably wouldn't be hard!).

On the other hand it IS good for "critical analysis of the method" to take place.
But, for me, the authors article unfortunately doesn't qualify as such - because for me, "analysis" requires objectivity.

author by Magdalenapublication date Thu Sep 07, 2006 18:23Report this post to the editors


I read this article with much interest as I participated in a constellations workshop some years ago. I am Irish and the ‘critical analysis’ certainly strikes a chord. Alas, in the main it seems to confirm that Christian fundamentalism is alive and well in Ireland, albeit largely unconscious in the expression of subjective social ‘journalism’. I am not surprised that Dialogue Ireland is not aware of family constellations, but I am disappointed that their voice is utilised to infer and motivate a myopic view of constellations work. It would appear fair in this case to offer an alternate experiential view. One of the reasons I chose to use the constellations approach to resolving systemic issues was because I had been affected by a fairly typical cocktail of Irish life, namely alcoholism and its devastating effects throughout the generations. One might go so far as to label these as ‘cultish’ Irish behaviours. ‘Dancing with the devils’ of alcohol, nationalistic pride and the fuelling of sporting and religious addictions is a certain breeding ground for future social and psychological exploration. In my family story another ‘taboo’ was the sexual abuse of an ancestor through the misuse of religious power, enabled through oppressive political means. Sadly, there is little novel about this ‘Irish’ experience, and what is maybe more novel is the commitment to a systemic resolve, in whatever way works best. Thus I find the authors lack of reflection most disturbing. The account reads as an encounter with a giant Ouija board and is just as dubious a source. Workshop participants are sorely disembodied from their stories and there appears no awareness of the principle of phenomenological intent, theoretically embodied in Hellinger’s approach. The references to Hellinger’s suggested affiliations with Hitler demonstrate irresponsible journalism, which has certainly missed the crucial point. The point is conflict resolution in the transpersonal experience of perpetrator- victim violence and the hierarchical order. The other point worth ‘re-membering’ is that workshop facilitators and skills vary in the same way therapists, priests, educators and other peoples in positions of power do. There are no safeguards to fully protect against this. Whilst there is little doubt that Hellinger’s approach to healing may be critically deconstructed as another form of ‘new age’ social and or religious movements, for God's sake, if inclined to critique, please do so respectfully, if not thoroughly.

author by John Paynepublication date Tue Jul 03, 2007 03:23author email joohn at johnlpayne dot comReport this post to the editors

This article is laced with not so veiled accusations against Bert Hellinger and his Family Constellations method. Why would a Nazi supporter be a regular guest in Israel? Did your research not uncover the fact that Hellinger regularly visits Israel offering this work there.

Almost all new ways of thinking and doing are heralded as heresy until they become accepted as fact. Many psychotherapists see Family Constellation work as a threat for many reasons - primarily the fact that for most people it is so effective that they do not require more than a couple or three or four sessions, unlike seeing a psychotherapist week in week out. This kind of work threatens not only their income, but their position as the 'experts' on mental health.

I'm also at a loss as to why some have described this work as 'New Age'. There's not a crystal in sight, a smudge stick or a reiki symbol anywhere - just psychotherpapeutic process and the field.
(read Lyn McTaggart's "The Field").

I think that authors should shy away from quoting 'rumours' in their articles.

Related Link: http://www.familyconstellations.net
author by Misepublication date Fri Jul 06, 2007 17:40Report this post to the editors

Hellinger's "Family Constellation" therapy is set out to heal and resolve conflict. Of course it is no surprise that those who profit from conflict will not like Hellinger's therapy and indeed, if they are Zionists, they will try to call him a Nazi and anything else. May "Family Constellation" practitioners heal this world quick because we are running against the clock! More work is needed in Israel and the US, and at the heart of the power centres of imperialism and neo liberalism.

author by Mpublication date Wed Aug 22, 2007 02:59Report this post to the editors

...from having experienced a workshop, I now see the process as a means of just "seeing a situation from a different perspective".
What makes the whole thing seem so strange , is the mystery - groupwork is always fearful and demanding particularly when you don't know the people well - and that is a large part of how the process works, i feel. But essentially i felt as though you were just opening up another eye on a situation? You can entertain the demands for a prejudgdicial hierarchy (in terms of family ethics) should you want or not..

author by paul - independentpublication date Mon Nov 19, 2007 13:36author email paulfbutler at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Hi,
I was interested and surprised to read the article and comments about Family Constellation therapy! I have been involved in this work for six years in Spain and on a personal level have found it inspiring and healing. For me The only way to understand this work is to participate in a workshop with good facilitators and to go with an open mind. There will be workshops in dublin on nov 24 2007 and in jan and march of 2008. For info contact me at 087 9696117 or paulfbutler@hotmail.com

author by Anna Marie Dostalova - Charles University of Praguepublication date Sun Dec 16, 2007 11:32author email alvita.felis at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

I am currently wiriting a thesis on this method from a religious studies / psychology of religion point of view.

I ´d be happy to collect some interviews and personal impressions from people abroad too. Here the method is also spreading tremendously (every other tea room in Prague offers constellation seminars) without any regulations and new therapists are being trained too quickly (1-2 years compared to 5+ years when studying a licensed type of psychotherapy.)

You can write me at: alvita.felis(a)gmail.com
Anna Marie Dostalova

author by Old lurkerpublication date Mon Feb 04, 2008 17:10Report this post to the editors

Florian Burkhardt : Some of the feelings that I had during those constellations were not my own, and I cannot explain their origin.

Doesn't this deserves more considerate investigations than just snide allegations about the "dangers" of the method or the "profits" of the practitioners?
(not to mention a few Godwin points!)
Every psychotherapy is dangerous, the more effective the more so.
How many suicides and worsening outcomes (unrecorded) for "classic", well received psychotherapy?
Corporatism at work it seems...
I have no personal experience with constellations but it always irks me to be confronted with the dishonest sneering of the conformists.

author by lauraleinpublication date Sun Mar 16, 2008 07:40author address Brunostr. 9, 63654 Büdingenauthor phone 0049-(0)6042-979359Report this post to the editors

Hello,
I would like to comment on this exchange. I am writing from Germany.

When we expirence something we do not understand, fear is often the response.
And this is, for me, what seems to come out of the words of the author.

There are, in every field of therapy, skilled und unskilled workers. But the method stands for itself.
I have experineced constellation work my self and greatly benefitted from it.

But viewing a video by Hellinger, I had a very strong reaction and turned it off after 10 minutes.
I could not stand what I experienced as directive, authoritarian style.
He belongs to a generation which grew up under very authoritarian structures and it shows,
but that does not discredit for me what he has developed.

After Mother Theresas death there was a lot of criticism of her person, revealing her personal foibles,
but that does not discredit her work.
We are all human and do not always live out everthing we hold to be true..

My experience with reconciliation, and this is how I understand the core of constellation work,
is the need of letting go of jugdment of the others behaviour, because
we do not know what really motivated them to act a certain way.
This letting go of judgement has brought much healing into my own life.

The experience of "Being in the field" was much more common for our ancestors who
had an awareness of the dead still being present somehow and therefor being able to
transmitt information otherwise unobtainable. Or having their support to guide them.
We lack in our time the sense of being supported by our ancestors, and somehow I feel
have lost contact to our roots. Here in Germany there are still many unresoved conflicts
between people stemming from the 3rd Reich. And only now after 60 can some of these
conflicts be addressed.

I do caution howerver to go to any therapist who might has done a weekend course and is
offering constellation work.

But you would not go to a builder or carpenter and let him work on your house, if you knew he
had only takensome workshops and read some books on building work, would you.

All good skills take time to mature
Regards
Jutta from Germany,
I lived in Ireland for 3 years in Co. Waterford, Dunmore East, Callen, and DRUMCOLLOGHER, Co. Limerick and I love you people greatly.
The link I provided hooks to the conferende mentioned above. Very interesting work.

Related Link: http://www.congress08.iam-youare.org/
author by Hollywood Tomfortaspublication date Thu Feb 25, 2010 22:34author email Tombuoyed at aol dot comReport this post to the editors

You might be interested in a statement signed by 40 Jewish constellation facilitators against Bert and Sophie Hellinger and their --- shall I just say their --- "lack of sensitivity" to issues concerning Jewish-Holocaust victims and their Nazi perpetrators that come up in many constellations?
It's called the Vienna Declaration of 2009

Related Link: http://www.jcfstatement.com/english.htm
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