By Michael Reddy, Ph.D.
A constellation session often starts with a question for the client:
“What’s the problem?” the facilitator asks.
I’ve also heard this referred to as a client’s “issue,” or “theme.” It makes sense to inquire about what’s wrong, of course. Change arises from perceptions of negative patterns. You can’t fix what you don’t even notice as wrong. But it makes perhaps less sense to leave the query in that form.
Coaching or therapeutic trainings often talk about something called “the problem space.” Most often, clients come wrapped up in these perceptions of what’s wrong and stumped about how to fix it. But there’s important truth in the saying, “You can’t fix the problem from within the problem space.” You have to get out of it somehow and into a wider “solution space.”
Here’s a simple process I’ve found to be excellent at doing this. It produces in my experience and that of my students genuinely better results in constellations.
First, I ask the client to reverse the problem statement:
“Well, if that’s what’s wrong, what would ‘right’ look like in that area?”
So “I’m exhausted and scared all the time and my business is failing,” turns into something like “I’m calm and awake and my business is booming.”
This is a good start. We now have at least some brushstrokes in the solution space.
This is the beginning of what I call the “desired positive change,” and my students have dubbed the constellation’s “DPC.” But it’s as yet diffuse, and rather global, possibly impractical. So it the work can benefit greatly from three further steps. I call them “focusing,” “instantiating” and “opening to the universe.”
Focusing means asking what, in this initially visualized solution space, is most important, or would maybe come first. A person’s initial DPC often goes from problem to complete fixes for his or her whole life. Let’s narrow that down to something a little more practical. So, “I’m calm and awake and my business is booming” might become “I have the energy to work calmly and steadily in my business.” That’s an obvious starting point for success.
OK, so now let’s instantiate it.
That means asking the client to go further and imagine whatever success in that change, or serious progress towards it – whatever these might look like in the near future. In other words, to paint some detail into the solution space by creating one or two instances, one or two examples of “having the energy to work calmly and steadily in my business.”
I don’t use here the term “milestones” because that tends to suggest a long, linear process. Changes produced by constellation work don’t tend to look like that. And I don’t want to suggest the change is necessarily lengthy or tedious.
Instantiating is closely related to what is known as the “miracle question” developed by psychotherapist Steve de Shazar who built upon the work of Milton Erickson.
He would relax people and then tell them they are waking up one day soon and somehow, miraculously, we don’t care how, the change has happened. It’s done, and during this first day, they notice various things being different that make them realize the miracle has indeed happened.
OK, so what are those things? How did you find out about the miracle? However you pose the question, “having the energy to work calmly and steadily in my business” can become instantiated as “I wake up excited about the day’s work,” or, “I look back at a week amazed at how much I have accomplished,” or “It’s easy and fascinating to put in my work hours.”
Perhaps you can feel already the difference in energy around these questions.
In this process, we have now nudged the client from vague to more focused all the way to concrete examples of life after the change. But we’ve left out how well the business is doing. And one of the guidelines for successfully manifesting transformative changes is “don’t try to micromanage the universe.”
So have we messed up by this focusing and instantiating?
Our experience with clients says, no. This concrete populating of the solution space is extremely valuable for constellations and really any form of helping/healing work. Beyond that, we can easily re-open to the universe by simply adding “or better.”
So now I’m going to set up a constellation session in which the Desired Positive Change (DPC) is something like “amazed at my work accomplishments, or better,” or “so easily fascinated by my work, or better.” Because of the process we’ve just gone through, the larger understanding remains present around this.
But it’s richly productive to have a representative on the floor, table, or altar actually addressed (named) “amazed-at-my-work-accomplishments-or-better.” Checking in, I’ll literally ask, “So, amazed-at-my-work-accomplishments-or-better, how is this for you?” Understand of course, that this representative will often start out distanced or collapsed or turned away. That’s the current state of the system being constellated.
This person or figurine or household object is an “indicator representative” in the constellation session. What ever makes this element perk up, feel more included, or results in a supported client close to and facing it—those are the movements the constellation is looking to uncover and facilitate.
Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, executive and life coaches, consultants, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.
Welcome to our blog, which explores what people are doing with Family and Systemic Constellations here, there and everywhere throughout North America.