The Mindful Pre-Constellation Interview
The Mindful Pre-Constellation Interview
This article is meant to be used as guidance and training wheels for the beginner. It is certainly not meant to be an absolute prescription. As you become familiar with the processes described here you will adapt it to your own natural style. After developing facility with these processes they will recede into the background as a useful structure. Like changing gears when driving a car it will become automatic and then you can concentrate more fully on being present in the interview. In that way you can move between the “two pathways for knowing things” described by Bert Hellinger below.
“There are two pathways for knowing things: the scientific which reaches out and grasps what has previously been unknown- and it is held until it is solidly owned and is usable. The second path is when we pause in our reaching out and instead of focusing on a particular, reachable object, we look at the whole picture… you can see the fullness and take it in. If you don’t focus on the particulars, this pause for thought and pulling back is what is known as phenomenological. It leads to a different kind of insight than the reaching out and capturing way of knowing, and the two complement each other” (B. Hellinger).
The mindful process
Staying fully present through such a complex process requires a great deal of skill. This can only be learnt with time and practice. Through the interview process you will need great mental flexibility to shift the focus of your attention easily. Some of the shifts you will need to make are:
- From Verbal processing to nonverbal and back.
- From one sensory input to another: e.g. visual (client’s posture, breathing and mannerisms), auditory (voice tone), kinaesthetic (your own body/emotional reactions)
- From Individual client to their family or organizational system and back.
- From energy to facts to story to orders and back.
We train the ability to shift focus easily both by rehearsal of the interview and more importantly by practising mindful meditation. This is especially helpful when we have developed some capacity for “choiceless awareness”. When we are able to be open in this way we can access the second path for knowing things, the phenomenological path referred to by Bert Hellinger in the quotation above.
- Establishing rapport / joining
- Defining the issue
- Making the contract
- Defining resources available
- Gathering systemic information
- Beginning the constellation
If at any stage during this process it is not proceeding there is always the option of stopping the interview. This needs to be done with respect and sensitivity to the possibility of shaming the client. This of course is much more problematic in a group setting.
- Once the client is seated allowing a moment for both of you to settle.
Attuning to the client’s family soul and the forces that might lead to resolution in an open and receptive way.
Remembering that you engaging the entire family system through the individual you are interviewing.
Remembering to remain friendly to all members.
Remaining cautious of any invitation to respond to the client’s perspective only.
- Taking the lead from the client.
i.e. If they want to talk about the weather to settle in, joining them in that. If they want to jump straight into the issue, pacing them.
- Noticing the client’s physical expression
e.g. is the stance childish or ‘ancient’- defended or humble-light or burdened- open or closed … What does the client’s stance conjure up in you?Noticing client’s vocal expression (e.g. loud. weak. quiet shaky. rapid, descending cadence- speech content e.g. brief, effusive. sparse, narrative, factual. )
Noticing Breath e.g. shallow, rapid, deep, held…
- Noticing the client’s emotions as well as your own.
Sometimes your own emotions can be clues as to what is happening for the client.
- Validating the client’s emotions
Different emotions all need validation especially if they are not overtly named.
If intense they all need containment which means you holding the energy in a mindful space as the first step. If you can’t hold the emotion in yourself without compulsively reacting you won’t be able to hold theirs. Don’t intervene too soon.If it is difficult to hold one of the most validating responses possible is to openly acknowledge that. In addition some emotions require specialized responses.
- Distress/sadness needs sharing and holding
- e.g. “That must be terrible!” or a gentle touch in a non threatening place such as the shoulder.
- Fear needs validation of courage and soothing
- Excitement needs acknowledging e.g. “Wow!”
- Shame especially needs reconnection through validation. “It seems you are having difficulty looking up and recognition of client’s ideals
- Anger needs recognition of triggers
Feeding back what you notice e.g. with the emotion e.g “you look sad/angry…” so client is more aware and in tune with own expression with the body and feels you are present with them in this: ” you seem to be tensing up in your body as you describe your mother”.
- Listening and tuning into their language.
Finding a bridge between your natural language and theirs.
- Listening to your own reactions
- Bodily responses
- b. Unusual unbidden thoughts
- Unusual images
- Your own level of presence. Noticing zoning out can be a very useful piece of information.
- Are you feeling emotional resonance
- Orienting the client toward the process if in an individual setting
Defining the issue
- Introductory questions
- What brings you herel
- What is your issue?
- Listening to the client’s explanations on different levels:
- Opening to indirect or non-verbal clues to the underlying issue.
- listening for key words or phrases.
- Hearing the client’s voice change
- Feeling a physical/emotional reaction.
It may be that when the client mentions his father, that he stops breathing. or goes into tension and/or you have difficulty breathing yourself or feel a tension in your own belly or chest. As above – it can be helpful to state this out loud
- Asking follow-up questions regarding those places you have ‘marked.’
- Noticing if you feel connected to the client in this issue.
- Can you sense their suffering? Is this issue urgent or serious enough to carry the energy?
- If yes: progressing to the next step
- If no: acknowledging your difficulty at least to yourself and probably to the client as well.
- Assessing the level of emotional arousal of the client
- Is it too much or too little to clearly access the issue? Steering the client toward the middle ground. It is also important to be aware your own level of trust in the client’s capability to carry on the process that the constellation sets in motion. You can amplify or modulate the client’s connection with the issue if necessary
- Amplifying connection with issue.
- Asking a provocative question to stimulate an emotional response.
e.g. “What is the greatest suffering in your life right now?” “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
- Asking the client to repeat a ritual sentence that encapsulates their issue
e.g. “I will never belong.”
If on the mark. the client’s body will go into its conditioned response. The pattern of response connects directly to where the trauma is carried in the body of the client. even if it is too unknown to be cognitively identified as an issue.
- Introductory questions
- Modulating connection with the issue.
This is appropriate when the client becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Steps are:
- Monitoring your own breathing. voice tone and bodily responses.
- Checking if client is present or lost in their story or locked in a past trauma
- Bringing them into a safe here and now by bringing them to their senses
e.g. “Where are you right now?” What colour are my eyes?”
If client is becoming over/under whelmed there is a possibility that a traumatic response is being activated. Bringing in resources at this point can be helpful e.g. guardian angel. animal. favourite place. imaginary friend. ancestor or relative that is strengthening . . . . this can be represented by a person or object and put in position that is supportive of the client and allows client to feel safe to proceed.
- Once the issue has been defined keeping it in mind during the rest of the interview and in the constellation.
You have successfully achieved this if you remember to reconnect to the issue both at the end of the interview and at the end of the constellation.
Making the contract
- Defining the issue in realistic terms.
- Ask yourself what is possible?
- Sometimes the best possible outcome is acceptance of something terrible but inevitable (bowing before fate) if a relaxation comes with that acceptance.
- It is often useful to get the client to define the outcome in terms of their own behaviour rather than that of others. This is oriented to a future change rather than understanding past problem.
e.g. “I want my father to love me” could be transformed into “I want to be able to feel my father’s love.”
- Asking the client if that would be a good outcome for them.
If no: explore further until you get a good agreed outcome
This exploration or interview process involves remaining as free as possible from preconceptions, judgements and beliefs. This means standing on the edge of knowing and not-knowing and intention and lack of intention. From this place we can begin asking questions in a curious way, inviting the client to reflect themselves on their request and what they are really wanting: – e.g. what have you already done to make your father love you Why haven’t you succeeded? In your experience is it possible to change another person? What is more possible? If your father loved you what would you be doing differently? And if you were able to do this how do you imagine your father would react? etc…
Defining resources available
This is the beginning of solution focus. This is different from problem solving.Problem solving attempts to define and analyse the problem. It is like the mechanical problem in a poorly running car. Once found the faulty part is simply repaired or replaced.
Human systems are organic with self regulatory processes called homeostasis. Therefore we engage them in a different way. The desired outcome guides the process rather than a diagnosis followed by a prescribed intervention.
A clear desired outcome is therefore the first resource. That is where the miracle question may be used.
The next resource is the simple fact that the client has arrived at the interview. Validating this can be a way of getting in touch with resources.
The systemic interview reveals resources as well as the entanglement. The people involved in the entanglement often become a great resource after the constellation.
Gathering systemic information- FACTS
- Noticing the client’s and your own responses to coming mentally into contact with each individual in their lineage.
This gives clues as to possible entanglements and resources.
Changes in the client’s body posture, breath. voice tone, degree of trance etc
Your own physical/emotional reactions and unusual thoughts or images appearing in your mind
- Being Curious as to where else the issue might belong in the system e.g. If the client’s problem doesn’t seem to make sense in the actualities of her own life. to whom does this problem belong? Often the client’s exact choice of words when they first introduced the issue can be telling. Asking yourself:
- What is the soul trying to bring into order?
- Who is missing excluded or forgotten in the client’s family or organisational system?
When you first start you may want to gather this information in a systematic way, thinking of who could possibly belong to the system that is excluded. Later you can collect much less information being guided by which information carries the most energy both for yourself and for the client.
Beginning the constellation
- Reconnecting with the issue
- Deciding which relationship system to set up to begin with: Family of Origin or Current Family.
This is determined by the client’s issue: is it to do with partner or children (begin with current system) or is it to do with parents and events related to childhood. The therapist now uses all the information taken in and senses where to start in order to find a resolution related to the presenting issue.
- Selecting who to represent
When beginning this work, it is better to start with people rather than elements and fewer people than lots.
- Supporting the client into the process of starting, helping them to stay present. steady and grounded.