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Family Constellations Therapy Online

Can You Do Family Constellations Therapy Online?
Family Constellations online - constellation dolls


Themes – outlining the different methods available for doing family constellations online, whether individual sessions or as a group. Exploring why different methods might suit different people, through the trauma responses of fight, flight, freeze and fawn.

Approx 3 – 5 minute read.

Family and Systemic Constellations Online – Does it Work?

Throughout COVID19 times, much we would previously do in person has moved online, from office meetings to chats with Grandparents. Many family constellations practitioners – myself included – have moved to working online also.

A constellation can open out deep sensing, feeling, intuition and empathy, at first I wondered if the work would go as deep online as it does in person? In fact I have found using constellating methods, it’s amazing just how MUCH connection and sensitivity is possible on a Zoom call.

Methods for Doing Family Constellations Online With Individuals

When constellating online with individuals, I have several methods that I use. I will ask a client to turn their attention towards and allow the constellation to unfold through:

  1. Their inner vision or ‘imagination’
  2. Tracking sensations, feelings or movements in their body
  3. Floor markers (e.g. A4 sheets of paper): laying out a map of the presenting problem
  4. Floor markers 2: standing in another persons shoes, feeling how it is to be them
  5. Figures (e.g. Playmobil set pictured, shells or stones): objects reveal through their position and placement

I like having several possible methods for the sessions I offer: if one doesn’t work well for someone, then I have something else to hand. These methods will nearly always reveal things unknown to our conscious mind, helping people shed light and gain new perspective on even the most intractable problems.

Sometimes people initially are skeptical about this, so I may do a ‘blind’ constellation. We write (lightly so it doesn’t show through!) individual elements of the issue on single A4 sheets of paper, then turn them over and shuffle. The client lays out the paper intuitively forming a map; when the paper is turned over each piece will reveal something, both through how it felt to place it and its position relative to the others.

If you would like to read examples of these systemic methods in action, I describe (with permission) some family constellation sessions online through these ‘medicine stories’:

Methods for Doing Family Constellations Online With Groups

In online family constellations groups, participants within the group act as representatives to support a person in their enquiry (the ‘issue holder’). This is exactly the same as would happen if we were a group of people all in the same room. The issue holder will ask someone “will you be my Father please” – that person (if they agree) represents the “Father” in the constellation as it unfolds.

Often a complete stranger will represent someone you know – with very little information about that person – and say things you feel and know to be true. You may even end up asking “how can this complete stranger identify something I didn’t consciously know about my parents, but that feels totally true?!”

On Zoom representatives will largely remain seated in front of their computer screen, attending to small inner details such as how they feel, sensations in their body or where they are drawn to look. Constellations usually aren’t very fast or with lots of external expression – they are not like “role plays” with lots of dialogue.

Is is through small and subtle details that big things are revealed: even when all the participants are at a distance and on screen, somehow this still magically occurs!

Using Family Constellation Dolls Online for an Added Layer of Insight

I am currently offering group constellation workshops online with my colleague Abi Berger. Recently we decided to add an extra layer from which insights could arise, by using dolls (as pictured) alongside human representatives as usual. So in this case “my father” might be represented by someone else in the group AND by a doll at the same time.

One impulse to do so was simply having more possibilities: even with a small group we can still use dolls to lay out a “cast of thousands”. Large societal events (such as war) or multigenerational constellations, may require more representatives than we have people in the room.

However the dolls add another layer not possible with human representatives on Zoom. For instance a rep might say “I feel like I am on the floor” so we will lie the doll down. Another rep might say “I am looking at him on the floor” so we move the dolls again. Thus a map of relationships between things unfolds through position and placement of the dolls.

This practical experimentation for increasing possibilities had some unexpectedly powerful results, which caused me to form a hypothesis.

Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn – the Traps and Gifts of Our Nervous Systems

Broadly speaking we see four nervous system responses to danger – fight, flight, freeze and fawn (or the 4Fs for short). Fight and flight are up-regulated responses of our sympathetic nervous system: they gear us up to fight with a ‘predator’ or run. Freeze (or dorsal vagal shutdown) is a down-regulated response, employing numbing and dissociation in the face of overwhelming danger.

These are automatic survival systems over which we have no conscious control at the point of danger. However we may become chronically stuck in one or two Fs, in ways that negatively impact our life. Here are the kinds of things people may present in session saying, according to which F they are stuck in:

Freeze – “I don’t know what I feel, its hard to take my place in the world, its hard to find my voice or take a stand”

Fawn – “I am such a people pleaser I hardly know what I want, I am burnt out looking after other peoples needs”

Fight – “I can’t relax because I am always in charge, I keep flying off the handle and I drive other people away”

Flight – “I am really sucessful and always working but hardly know who I am, I am often stuck in my head”

Because these chronic states develop in response to stress or trauma, they are mostly experienced as traps that have a negative impacts on life. I find it beneficial however to recognise that the four Fs can also bring gifts – in the form of highly developed capacities – which can be utilised in service to a persons healing too.

I notice that psychic sensitivity often accompanies freeze, as does the ability to see complex unfolding inner images, much like a shaman. Whereas physical empaths are people who are uniquely attuned to what other people are feeling – they can make very good therapists! – this can be one way that a fawn response evolves into a highly developed capacity that becomes a gift.

As representatives in a constellation group, participants with these two Fs – freeze and fawn – will often quickly sense, feel and see images related to the person they are representing. It will be very easy for them to become “your grandfather”, they will often present lots of psychic and intuitive information arising in the role.

When someone is caught up in fight or flight responses: these are up-regulated states in which the body is charged up and ready to react to external threat. Slowing down and noticing quiet inner sensing and feeling, might not be so easy for someone caught up in these states.

With the sympathetic arousal of fight and flight – pupils dilate (literally to see the tiger in the room!), thoughts quicken and response times speed up. The gifts of fight or flight responses therefore, can include acute attention to external detail and an ability to respond quickly and confidently to change.

I have noticed that using the dolls – as well as human representatives – in online group constellations, seems to engage more of the group more fully. My hypothesis is that those who tend towards flight or fight responses, find the quiet seated inner reflection of a Zoom group constellation more difficult.

However, once the constellation is simultaneously unfolding through a set of dolls on the screen, then representatives can see (and move) the dolls to express something about the person they are representing. This way external sight is employed, as well as attention to external details through the position and placement of the dolls.

I notice that some representatives will pay little attention to the setup of the dolls and focus only on their inner vision, feelings and sensations. Whereas others will be acutely aware of the position and placement of the dolls, responding quickly to even the smallest change in the setup. I feel there is some correlation between this and the ways in which the four Fs shape us to attend more to internal or external events.

My hypothesis is that having these different methods enables the constellation to unfold in ways suitable for the whole range of fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses, and the tendencies they create in people. This way, the gifts of the four Fs can be tapped into and utilised for the benefit of the whole group.