Most psychotherapeutic processes involve a focus on the problem that their clients bring to sessions. With the therapeutic process involving holding a space whereby the client may express themselves fully and confidentially in being seen and heard and be acknowledged with unconditional positive regard. This is matched by the therapist’s belief that they need to hear all about it. Fully understand it. Explore how it affects their lives and try to understand it from many angles, to raise awareness. All with the hope that such an exploration of the problem in the present, will lead to the client somehow finding their solutions within.
While this may be appropriate for some problems, for deeper more complex and deeply emotional or traumatic situations, focusing on the problem frequently leaves the client feeling stuck and frustrated, or even retraumatised.
The problem in focusing on the experience of the problem, means we look at it through a narrow lens, as if the client is an isolated entity. The bigger picture or the context of how this problem originated, or is sustained is not in view. For example, we can’t get a sense of whether this problem starts in the here and now, or if it’s part of a bigger pattern of how their family, culture, religion operates.
Here is another problem with focusing on the problem.
If someone tells a story about a behaviour, or situation, they are telling it from their own perspective. While this is real to them and is their experience, if you speak to others involved, you’re likely to get different perspectives. So what is real?
Imagine, a woman comes to see me with a fear of dying in child birth. I could focus on the problem and let her express her thoughts and fears at infinitum and then go on to show her the statistics that only a small percentage of women in chid-birth result in death and then explore her irrational beliefs or fears in an attempt to help her change them.
However, if instead, I ask if her family had a history of mothers dying in childbirth in their parents or grand-parents time, we are likely to gain a bigger picture of how unprocessed traumas for the women and children who died in labour can have a ricochet effect through the women of this family. Particularly if the shock of the loss was
painful and the culture didn’t have the support in traditions or rituals for grieving and honouring of tragic losses. Perhaps the people were simply left with the task of putting one step in front of the next in looking after the family to ensure survival. Having to put food on the table and needing to sweep their feelings under the carpet and so the trauma remains in the system and is inadvertently passed down through generations of women unconsciously.
Seeing the bigger picture now makes sense for the woman who is scared of childbirth. This is an ideal situation to work with in a family constellation, where she can honour the women through constellation healing processes to come to a better place of respectful acknowledgement, of those who’ve died giving birth. A way of connecting and receiving their good will and blessing in going forward in having a child
Rather than focusing on the problem, there is great value in looking at cause and effect. When we do this, a child who is ‘off the rails’ is not necessarily the real problem, because when we look at the child in the context of the family and its dysfunctions that has left this child feeling disconnected, feeling unloved, burdened and angry we see a bigger picture of what is affecting the child.
Imagine a couple who arrives to therapy with a complex marital problem. Staying in the present you will often hear what he or she said or did, with often one of the partners appearing to be way out of line in behaviour to the other. What do you do with that as a therapist?
Alternatively if each person within the couple, looks at themselves and their relationship in the context of their own family system, they may experience the beliefs, values, generational patterns, gender expectations and how they infiltrate the present relationship. This has the effect of opening up the problem in the relationship to understanding and compassion for themselves ,their partners and children, in allowing new possibilities of growth to occur.
Most human problems have their roots in past generations. While this does not excuse poor behaviour, it can add a level of understanding to emerge, while encouraging each person to take full responsibility for themselves, as men or women in the present with more presence, healthy pride and dignity as they move forward.
As a newer counsellor I came to dislike working with couples, as even with my extensive knowledge and skillsets, I frequently found regular counselling sessions reaching stuck points of frustration. Each of the partners’ staunch in their opposing and accusing positions.
After learning Family Constellations this opened up considerably for me in making such work really rewarding in watching people open up. Watching each of a couple move to a much more accepting and loving space within their own system, so they could disentangle themselves from the invisible loyalties that held their dysfunctional patterns.
Looking at a problem systemically in psychotherapy is of great value in observing cause and effect and is also of value in looking at inflammatory world conflicts as Gabor Mate’ shows in his video, where he presents a strong leadership role for us to aspire to in being able to step out of our inner experience to look at the bigger picture with clarity, humanity and compassion.
So when people come to me I hear their problem briefly and then ask questions about where such problems or patterns may occur in their family system. The constellation process in a workshop or private sessions, holds a space where openness and reflection and inner healing may take place. In a way that when they come back to look at their original problem, they may see and feel it differently with new perspectives that open up new possibilities. I never quite know where it’s going, in working phenomenologically, so my work remains fascinating and joyful.
No wonder I love this work.
See the Dr Gabor Mate’ video HERE
Don’t miss the Early Bird discount on 15 Nov for the next Family Constellations certificate online training starts on 3 January 2024. Details
Come on board for an advanced constellation discount Package.
Next Family Constellation workshop
If you would like to experience Family Constellations in a workshop I am holding a workshop on 25 November in Tamborine mountain Qld. Come as an observer or representative or book to have your own constellation HERE