Conference News and Updates

Bullying – A Longing to Belong

by Una O’Connell

I attended the 2013 conference in Seattle, offering both a panel presentation and a workshop. Although I live in London, I trained at the Hellinger Institute in NY in 2001/2 and therefore, feel an affinity with the United States. Following the Seattle conference, Lisa Iversen kindly hosted me in several locations across the Pacific Northwest. I returned for a second visit to Bellingham in October of 2014 and ran workshops on: ‘The Invisible Landscape of Bullying’ and ‘Longing to Belong: Walking the Path between Home and School’.

When I was five years old I bullied a girl in my kindergarten class. Hatija was quietly confident and very bright. I was considered neither of those things. I was fascinated by Hatija; I wanted to be like her, I wanted her to notice me and admire me too. I didn’t know how to win her friendship in a way that was kind and inviting, so I made my presence felt in other ways. I was angry at being ignored and so I began to provoke her. I sought to point out what I felt was lacking in her. This made me feel better about myself, but it wasn’t long before Hatija’s friend reported me. I was called in front of the teacher and accused of being a bully and a racist. I didn’t know what either of those words meant. If someone had explained the concept of victim and perpetrator to me in the language of a five year old, I believe I would have seen myself as the victim and Hatija as the perpetrator.

Since 2006, I have worked systemically and therapeutically in inner city London schools and I have noticed that children who bully others share certain characteristics. They often struggle academically, they come from families where there is conflict and they are seen as leaders by their peers. Boys fight in the playground. Girls express their anger in more subtle ways by forming friendship groups that are consciously exclusive.

Bullying is often modelled in the home and transferred to school. These children use violence and manipulation to help them feel energised and in control. They learn that it is more immediately manageable to incite fear in others than to feel the fear and the isolation in themselves. At heart it is a longing to belong, the search for a guaranteed place in the herd.

Belonging and inclusion are key themes in constellation work and they are key themes in education. School exclusion has risen by 13.9% in a single year in the UK. As a strategy to eliminate bullying, it is highly damaging because a child’s difficult behaviour is based on a fundamental feeling of exclusion which has its origins within the family. Excluding children from attending school doesn’t teach them anything; it simply reinforces the idea that they deserve to be excluded.

It is important to forbid bullying and yet its roots must be reckoned and respected. Strong feelings are instinctive in all of us and they can give us the courage to stand up for the things we consider to be important, such as injustice. Managing anger should be taught with intelligence and sensitivity as part of the school curriculum. Mostly it is simply forbidden and punished.

In response to these concerns and to the comments I often hear from students about ‘unfairness’, I developed a range of exercises for working in groups. The following is an example:

I say to a child in a green sweater: ‘You’re wearing a red sweater’. My mistake is obvious to everyone. However, if I accuse someone of having taken my phone and that person denies it, who can the children believe? Who is telling the truth? It is possible that I left my phone at home, so the only person who really knows the truth is the person I am accusing. The children work in pairs, practising strong body language, calming breath and developing inner resources: ‘I know the truth, even if nobody else does. There is no shame because there is no truth to the accusation’. I encourage them to use their breath, to feel their truth travelling up through their bodies and into their chests, to hold it for a moment in their hearts, then to exhale gently, allowing that inner certainty to unfold into the expression on their faces. If they feel strong and clear, they can look the person in the eye, be it another child, be it a teacher and, holding firmly to what they know to be true, say out loud:

‘I am sorry you have lost your phone. I didn’t take it and I hope you find it’.

If we can stand up for ourselves in a calm way, it becomes easier to talk to each other and it becomes easier to listen.

As parents, as leaders and teachers, as adults, one of the greatest gifts we can offer children is to be good role models, to behave with as much honesty, integrity and congruity as possible. I am reminded of a comment made by a former gang member: ‘I don’t think kids are bad. They just learn what you teach them’.

Una O’Connell

Una graduated with a degree in French from the University of Reading. In 2001/02, Una trained in Systemic Family Constellations at the Hellinger Institute in New York. In 2007, she began working for Kids Company, a London charity supporting children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh. She worked in primary and secondary schools, facilitating group work in the classroom and managing issues around belonging and inclusion, family and culture. Una also provided training courses for both the teaching faculties and the team leaders at Kids Company schools. She now works freelance, providing workshops and trainings for educators, school therapists and social workers on the subject of ‘Family Conflict, Family Loyalty – navigating the path between the two’. More information about Una’s work can be found at


US Systemic Constellations Conference November 12-15

Previous Blogs

What Happens when the Horse does Nothing?

by Sara Fancy


Photo credit: Sara Fancy

Since 2008, I’ve included my team of seven horses, individually, into Constellation sessions, either privately or in groups. Our workspace, a large round pen, backs onto the bottom of a mountain ridge and faces eighteen hundred acres of pristine, chaparral landscape. The expansiveness and privacy of this location supports the sensitivity and intensity of the work performed.

In traditional equine therapy, sessions usually consist of the client and horse performing a specific task, such as; walking and leading the horse through an obstacle course. Operating from the premise that the horse mirror will back information, the facilitator may ask the client ‘and where else do you experience this in your life?’

In a Horse Constellation, the set up is different. There are no tasks assigned for the client and horse to perform. Instead, the Constellation begins by simply sharing space. The individual and/or group, stand inside the round pen along with a horse at liberty (untied).

When sharing space, there’s no pressure on the horse to do anything, which allows the horse to make his/her own decisions about where he/she wants to go to inside the round pen.

A Constellation involves a specific person working on an intention for healing. Their intention  determines how the Constellation proceeds. Group participants, referred to as ‘reps’ are given roles, and are positioned inside the round pen. The horse is invited to participate in the Constellation in an undefined role which organically reveals itself, or the horse may simply support the Constellation in whatever way the he/she shows up.

The manner in which the horse participates in the Constellation offers pertinent information. An example; the horse picks a specific representative to stand beside and in doing so reveals a missing member of the family. Feedback from the client affirms there was a missing sibling in her family who died tragically.

More times than not, the horse will actively participate in a Constellation. I’ve witnessed moments when the horse initiates a definitive action which nobody in the group can deny. An example of this was when Diva, a large black Percheron mare, gently nudged a client towards the rep of her wounded, inner child. Because the client resisted Diva’s suggestion, Diva made two more attempts at moving the client towards the arms of her child self. When the client said she felt coerced by the other representative into accepting this aspect of herself, I pointed out how Diva had supported this movement not just once but three times.

What was Diva’s purpose in doing this? My belief is in order for horses to feel at ease, they have an innate sense of balance and will gravitate to physical, emotional and mental equilibrium. In this particular incident, Diva was expressing to the client how she needed to accept and integrate her ‘wounded inner child’ to experience wholeness.

Pretty Boy

Photo credit: Sara Fancy

There are occasions when the horse seems to be completely uninterested in what’s going on in the Constellation, and behaves as if everyone is invisible. The horse might be gazing out into the horizon, nibbling at patches of grass or hanging out by the gate. In my experience, when the horse is not actively participating, there are walls around the Constellation. For instance, if the client is disconnected to their body and feelings, or if we have yet to make any significant discoveries in the Constellation. Frequently there is a breakthrough moment at the end of the Constellation when the horse who’s been standing at the gate will suddenly turn and go directly to the client.

As prey animals, horses need to know their environment is safe. If there is an in-congruency in the energy field of the Constellation the horse will stay away. Consequently, if the energy field of the Constellation, however painful, is transparent, such as when a truth is revealed, the horse’s herding instinct kicks in and the horse will be join the group.

I’ve learned to completely trust what happens in a Horse Constellation. I’m clear in the intention that the horses are here to support the Constellation for the highest good of the client, group, myself and all of our relations. If the horse doesn’t interact with the group during a Constellation it’s OK and correct. They are not dancing bears. If I am overly concerned with whether the horse will do something extraordinary, then clearly, as a facilitator, I’m not in a position to hold a neutral space.

Yet in my opinion, when the horse appears to be doing nothing, they’re contributing to the Constellation in less obvious ways. Their presence creates a physiological effect in people. Studies have shown how a human’s heart rate will synchronize to the heart beat of the horse. Humans are incredibly attracted to horses, and feel good when looking at them and being in their presence. When we worked with children, I noticed how after a class, they remembered everything about the horse and not the flies which at the time they incessantly complained about.

Many of our clients come to Silver Horse Retreat with an undefined longing to be around horses. When someone is burdened with deep emotional trauma, it’s easier for them to connect to their wounding when a horse is present. Being outdoors, sharing space with a horse sets a benevolent emotional tone against a forgiving environment. The session becomes a symphony, inviting nature to participate. The wind picks up as a missing ancestor is identified and a plump of honking geese fly overhead as we’re about to explore a suicide in the family no one spoke about. This sacred dialogue with nature promotes a profound sense of connectedness to everything, reminding us we are not alone.


Silver Horse Retreat

Sara Fancy

Sara Fancy has been practicing Systemic and Family Constellations since 2008 after graduating with Francesca Mason Boring. Her background is in Polarity therapy, Cranial Sacral Unwinding and Equine Therapy. Sara is the owner of Silver Horse Retreat in Warner Springs, CA. Sara was a presenter at the US Systemic Constellation Conference in 2013.

For Sara’s Upcoming Events:

What a gift to have been able to spend the Conference weekend with all who attended, presented, volunteered, and were healed, moved and stimulated by the Constellations community who gathered!

We have photos and written reflections to come. If you have a reflection about the conference experience that you’d like to share, email it to the webmaster, Alison Fornes:

An email with the Conference Evaluation and information about the Conference Directory is on its way to your email inbox. Check your spam or promotional boxes if it doesn’t land in your regular inbox.

Meanwhile, Deborah Koff Chapin has posted images from the touchdrawings she made during the conference. Prints are available for purchase through her website. To view the gallery, visit:

And check out the blog posts from the conference, by our guest blogger Kate Temple-West:

We have set up two simple bulletin boards on the Venue Page to help you coordinate room or ride shares with other conferees.


to go to the Venue Page.

Touch Drawing Workshop with Deborah Koff-Chapin

Monday October 14
Location: Westin Bellevue, Flathead Lake Room

Scroll Down for Registration Information.

We are pleased to announce this special Post-Conference Event!

Deborah Koff-Chapin, founder of Touch Drawing, and guest artist for the Conference, is offering a special 4-hour workshop in Touch Drawing. From a Constellations view, Touch Drawing can be seen as a visual representation of the Knowing Field.

In touch drawing, “The hands are extensions of the soul, moving in response to the sensations of the moment. Channels of expression open, enabling feelings to flow. A series of drawings is created, each a stepping stone deeper into the self.” (

This is a terrific opportunity to work with a master teacher, using a modality that expands on the way of knowing that we use in Constellation work. You’re invited to join Deborah for this deep creative integration of your conference experience. All materials will be provided.

Monday October 14
Location: Westin Bellevue, Flathead Lake Room
$70, plus $5 materials fee

12 person minimum, 20 person max


Registration Information

The link below will take you to the Workshop Registration Form at the Center for Touch Drawing Website.

You will be asked for the following information:

Location of Workshop: Constellation Conference, Westin Bellevue

Date of Workshop: 10/14/2013

Total Cost to be Charged: $75