Constellation Work

For those who find themselves frequently in conflicts or facing recurring difficulties, sooner or later they receive the advice to try "constellation work" or to have "their issue" professionally set up once. Within companies, systemic or organizational constellations are also playing an increasingly important role. But what hides behind this term? What is constellation work, what does it bring, and what is it suitable for?

Table of Contents

  1. Definition
  2. Procedure
  3. How Does Constellation Work?
  4. Achievements
  5. Types
  6. Constellation Work with Figures
  7. How Can Constellation Work Be Used in Coaching?
  8. Criticism
  9. Learning
  10. Literature

Definition of Constellation Work

Playing Pieces
Playing Pieces (Pixabay: © geralt)

Constellation work, or "Aufstellung" in German, is a collective term for methods in which the members of a system (family, organization, company) are individually positioned (= constellated) and related to each other. This allows connections within the system to be visualized and recurring patterns and relationship constellations to be made transparent. This is done, among other things, through changes in perspective and through the way the participants are spatially positioned and related to the other members.

For example, in a family constellation, the individual family members are positioned, and in organizational constellations, the employees of an organization/company are positioned. Abstract components (such as an illness, a symptom, finances, etc.) can also be constellated as elements. Constellating means that a place is reserved for each important person in the system, on which they are represented. It is important to note that the (family or corporate) members themselves are not present to be constellated: they are represented by representatives who take their position. Special attention is paid to the relationship between the individual participants: How close are the individual people to each other, are they facing each other or turned away, who is in the way, who obstructs others' view, who stands aside, where are the alliances? Etc.

Constellations can be conducted with real people, each embodying an involved member as a representative, or with the help of figures or symbols positioned on the table, floor, or on a system board. Even if the individual members are embodied by people, it is not a role play.

Procedure of Constellation Work

Not all constellations are the same; there are some differences depending on the type. Constellations can take place in a group with real people or on a so-called system board (with figures and symbols). However, the following procedure is often found in many constellations. The guidance of the constellation is carried out by the systemic coach or therapist. The described procedure applies to a constellation in a group.

  • What is it about? What is the topic to be visualized or constellated?
    The client describes their concern and what they hope to achieve from the constellation.
  • Who is involved? Who should be constellated?
    All involved parties related to the issue are predetermined so that they can be constellated. This could be one's own family, the company one works for, or specific aspects of one's life such as "finances," "health," etc.
  • Selection of a representative for the client
    If it's a constellation with representatives, one representative for the client is chosen from the present individuals. The client positions their representative in the room, guiding them to the spot that feels right to them.
  • Selection of representatives
    For the predetermined members of the system to be constellated, a person is also selected for each. They are informed whom they represent ("my grandmother") and are likewise guided by the client to the appropriate position in the room. In concealed constellations, a representative can also be positioned without knowing who or what they represent.
  • Positioning of the participants
    The individuals are positioned according to the client's intuition at that moment. It's assumed that the client places each member as they correspond to their internal representation of the system. After all representatives have taken their positions, adjustments can still be made.
  • Questioning / Statements from the participants
    Each participant is now questioned one by one about what they currently perceive and how they feel in their position. Often, the different perspectives already lead to initial realizations for the client.
  • Intervening / the actual process work
    At this point, changes are gradually made by the facilitating coach or therapist. A guiding principle here could be: What is necessary for everyone involved to feel good? By rearranging participants, making new arrangements, adding new aspects, or even temporarily removing individual elements, new variations can be explored. The client, whose issue is being constellated, observes from the outside and lets the scenario affect them from an external perspective.
  • Conclusion of the constellation
    When all involved parties feel better or a temporary solution is in sight, the constellation reaches a temporary conclusion. Now, the client can also release their representative and resume their role in the system. Depending on the type of constellation or ideological background, reconciliation rituals with family members can be performed here, tasks taken on can be returned, or farewells can be said. This also depends on the topic and context.
  • Dismissing the representatives from their assumed roles
    The participating representatives are released from their roles (for example, by the client addressing them personally, thanking them, and addressing them by their own name) and return to their places.
  • Letting the constellation take effect
    Often, the experience of the constellation should not be immediately discussed but left to have an impact in peace. However, the therapist or coach should also be available for questions in the days following. Alternatively, in some forms of constellations, there is the option to calmly reflect on the experience and seek further action strategies.

How does constellation work?

The respective representatives step into the position of the person they represent. However, they don't play a role or act; instead, they embody the respective person during the time. They are usually questioned about their perceptions and can freely express from their perspective what is going on within them, such as "the person next to me on the left is too close" or "Person A is blocking my view of Person B." Even if they currently feel or perceive nothing in their position, they can express this. Often, this leads to insights for the client who has constellated their issue. Describing the issue from various perspectives already brings valuable insights. It's interesting that sometimes representatives know things that they, as originally neutral participants, couldn't possibly know, for example, they sense that someone is missing or that other members have a relationship with each other. They truly feel as if they are the grandmother, uncle, or brother of the client and usually act accordingly.

Furthermore, we already map the relationships between people in some form in our brains and encode this for ourselves. For example, the boss is "above us" in some way, or a colleague "has our back." A constellation visualizes and clarifies what we already suspect or know without it being clear to us beforehand.

Another explanation of how constellations work comes from neuroscience. We have mirror neurons, which make us empathetic beings. We sense how other people feel. Even as children, we can pick up signals from our parents, including signals that they are sad or shocked. We store this information and let it influence us. Through a constellation, we can bring this stored but suppressed knowledge back into active consciousness.

What can be achieved with constellation work?

The effects depend entirely on the insights gained from the constellation. For example, visualization in a company can initially reveal weaknesses, such as in communication between individual departments. Another insight may be that some team members do not harmonize with each other, and the teams should be reorganized accordingly.

What types of constellations are there?

Constellation work has become a trend nowadays. In addition to established forms of constellation, there are also many exotic terms combined with constellation. Sometimes these are just new or modern-sounding names for familiar methods, while in other cases, they involve the combination of two procedures.

Systemic Constellation

When speaking generally about constellations, systemic constellations are usually meant. A constellation makes the relationships of the individual elements within a system visible. Systemic constellations include family constellations, organizational constellations, and structural constellations.

Family Constellation

Here, the relationship between the individual members of a family is constellated and visualized. Depending on the concern and theme, this could involve members of the origin family, the partner's family, or members of a blended family. Themes for family constellations can include unresolved conflicts, blockages, entanglements, chronic illnesses, etc.

Family Positioning

Often equated with family constellation. Family positioning was popularized by Bert Hellinger. The underlying worldview has strong ties to psychoanalysis. Constellations are seen as objective representation methods. Solutions are often dogmatically prescribed and considered indisputable truths. (See also Phenomenological Constellation.)

Organizational Constellation

In an organizational constellation, the structure and relationships within an organization (a company, a department, an authority, etc.) are visualized. This can involve individual employees and team members as well as entire departments (sales, procurement, administration). Possible topics could include conflicts between departments, high turnover or sickness rates, difficult customer relationships, high numbers of complaints, etc.

Systemic Structural Constellations

With systemic structural constellations, it is assumed that no system itself, but only the structure of a system, can be constellated. This form of constellation incorporates influences from hypnotherapy, systemic therapy, and family therapy. Different systems are constellated, such as bodily systems, goals, decision structures, alternatives, internal components, etc. The systemic structural constellation (SySt) was developed by Matthias Varga von Kibed and Insa Sparrer.

Integral Constellation Work

Integral constellation work is a combination of systemic structural constellations and the integral approach of philosopher Ken Wilber (quadrant model, spiral dynamics). It is a comprehensive and trans-systemic process that transcends and integrates modern expert coaching and postmodern systemic approaches. In this form of constellation, the client is met at their personal stage of development.

Shamanic Constellation Work

In shamanic constellation work, constellations are combined with shamanic perspectives. This can manifest, for example, in the inclusion and constellation of power animals, plants, trees, places, and the spirits of our ancestors. Solutions and new sources of strength utilize the entire universe. This is often also referred to as spiritual constellation work.

Astrological Constellation Work

In astrological constellation work, individual personality aspects and potentials of a person are constellated as shown by their birth chart (including individual planets) and brought into relation with each other. This is intended to uncover existing blockages.

Autopoietic Constellation Work

The term autopoiesis (from ancient Greek) refers to the process of self-creation and self-maintenance of a system. Corresponding constellation work aims to stimulate and support the dynamics of self-healing and self-organization in a system. The representatives are encouraged to shape their assumed roles.

Free Constellation Work

Free constellation work refers to a constellation where the person addressing their concern remains in charge of the constellation from beginning to end. The constellation is therefore free from guidelines by others (including a leading coach) and free from limitations. The participants/representatives are also voluntary and have the option to leave the constellation at any time if it no longer feels right for them.

Phenomenological Constellation Work

This form of constellation work is strongly associated with Bert Hellinger. He refers to his approach in family constellations as phenomenological as well. According to his view, the client is involved in a larger field of power and the family soul. In his conviction, the goal is to restore the "order of love," a natural order determined by life, where, for example, the firstborn takes precedence over the second-born, and the man has priority over the woman. To enable phenomenological perception, only the essential should be inquired about before the constellation. A preliminary discussion or assignment clarification would only hinder this perception.

Psychodramatic Constellation Work

This involves a combination of constellation work and psychodrama, a method developed by Jacob Levy Moreno (a combination of group psychotherapy and improvisational theater). The representatives receive some information about the person they represent. In addition, the client whose issue is being addressed engages in a role reversal with the constellated individuals, i.e., they also assume their role. The constellation is complemented by additional psychodramatic techniques.

Constellation Work with Figures / Tools

Not always are there enough representatives available when a client wants to visualize an issue through a constellation. Therefore, methods have also been established where the individual members/elements of a system are represented by figures or symbols. This variant is often used in individual coaching to visualize a topic. Materials that can be used include, for example, toy figures or dolls, stuffed animals, simple building blocks (sometimes with faces), stones, and symbols of any kind that are arranged on the table or floor. Some coaches successfully use their children's toy box, which does not necessarily impair the quality of the constellation. Paper cards labeled with the names of the respective persons can also be used for constellations. A system board is also a possibility, with the help of wooden figures and symbols arranged on a board to represent the system under consideration.

How Can Constellation Work Be Used in Coaching?

When a topic arises in coaching for which a constellation seems appropriate, the aforementioned materials can be used. Here, too, the client selects a figure, a building block, or a symbol for each important person in the system and intuitively positions them on the table or floor. Of course, the dolls or building blocks cannot be questioned. In that case, the client can either walk around the constellation and observe the scene from the perspectives of the placed figures: does everyone have a good view of the whole, or is someone blocking someone else's view? Are there directions in which each of the figures is looking? Are the protagonists looking at each other or past each other? Etc. The client can also associate with the respective positions and express their perception from that perspective. Viewing the constellation from the meta-perspective often provides valuable insights.

Criticism of Constellation Work

The effectiveness of constellations and the insights gained from them cannot be denied. However, there is an immeasurable number of individuals offering constellations, as well as a multitude of immature methods. Not everyone offering a constellation is a trained coach or therapist, or has training in psychology. There are significant qualitative differences between constellations. Not everything that has spectacular effects serves the purpose of resolving difficulties or advancing the client's development. Additionally, a constellation that leaves a client perplexed without any follow-up can become dangerous. Constellation work has also come under criticism from Bert Hellinger, who since the early 1990s conducted live constellations on stage in large events, with several thousand people as spectators. His dogmatic statements and interpretations greatly restricted the autonomy of clients and were therefore also considered dangerous.

Those interested in constellation work should therefore carefully select the therapist or coach conducting the constellation.

Learning Constellation Work

For those who wish to offer constellations themselves as coaches, organizational developers, or within the scope of psychotherapy, a qualified training program should be considered. The choice of training direction or institute depends not least on the target group with which a coach wants to work.

Further Reading and Book Recommendations

The Constellation Book: Family Constellation, Organizational Constellation, and Latest Developments

408 pages, Braumüller Verlag (October 1, 2012)
ISBN 3991000768

Peter Klein, Sigrid Limberg-Strohmaier


Miracle, Solution, and System: Solution-Focused Systemic Structural Constellations for Therapy and Organizational Consulting

456 pages, Carl-Auer Verlag GmbH; 6th edition (July 23, 2014)
ISBN 3896708988

Insa Sparrer


Basics of Family Constellation for Dummies Pocketbook

142 pages, Wiley-VCH; 1st edition (April 14, 2016)
ISBN 3527712704

Paul Gamber


Solutions with the System Board: A Comprehensive Manual for Constellations with the System Board in Business Consulting AND Personal Counseling

176 pages, Oekotopia Verlag; 1st edition (August 13, 2012)
ISBN 386702202X

Georg Breiner, Wolfgang Polt


Zurück zum Seitenanfang