Constellations and Psychodrama as Experiential Agents of Change
by Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
I first learned about constellation work in 2002 from a very, very enthusiastic colleague. Mindful of the scores of brochures, e-mails and announcements that tout the latest therapeutic fad, I first was cautious about diving into to this new approach. After all, I’d been working as a master trainer in psychodrama, the earliest and most enduring experiential method that focuses on our network of relationships and using dramatic action to change the roles we play in those relationships.
But, hey, there was something with this constellation thing. I felt it. So I began reading about constellations, then watching demonstrations. I ventured into becoming a representative, sensing energy for others in sessions. Then came client experiences, intensive study and finally practice.
After many personal and professional experiences, I am a complete convert to the gifts and potential of constellation work and have integrated its philosophy into my practice of teaching, psychotherapy and coaching. The people I work with report meaningful internal shifts that are astounding and awe-inspiring and contribute to long-lasting healing effects.
Systemic constellation work – sometimes known as family constellation work – is a rapidly growing healing and change process. It is based on the notion that people are connected to energetic forces, particularly the energies of their ancestors, that can be sensed by ordinary people to discover resolution. This approach is generating immense interest throughout the world not only with psychotherapists but also with a wide range of professionals because it appears to resolve difficult and long-standing issues, often just one or two sessions.
As this method emerges as a dynamic form of 21st century change, psychodramatists, creative arts psychotherapists, experiential psychotherapists, energy workers and alternative health professionals will see common elements in systemic constellation work.
All experiential therapists, as well as behavioral and cognitive therapists who integrate bits of experiential techniques, benefit from constellation fundamentals and discoveries, giving new reach and depth to sessions with individuals and groups. They have fresh ways to examine the individual’s links to his or her extended family and design interventions to interrupt and reconfigure hidden patterns that have seemed intractable.
However, I have not given up on psychodrama. Psychodrama has gifts for constellation facilitators, giving a greater understanding of the roots of experiential therapies so they can place their specialty in a wider historical and philosophical context. With the understanding of psychodrama’s comprehensive philosophy, constellation facilitators have options to address delicate matters relating to resistance with understanding and sensitivity. Most importantly, constellation facilitators who work in groups, as many do, will have more tools to maximize connection for greater safety, inclusion and healing of group members.
Technically, psychodrama and systemic constellation work are not psychotherapies. They are complex philosophies that stimulate deep change within humans and groups of humans. Yet each has been identified primarily as a healing method and embraced by helping professionals, especially family and group therapists, although each offers tremendous value in non-therapeutic settings such as business, education, medicine, community building and organizational development. Each is based on the primacy of here-and-now experience rather than talk and analysis, which has been the long-standing approach of traditional problem-solving methods.
Psychodrama and systemic constellations fit as experiential therapies because the experience, rather than cognition and insight, transforms the hurt and pain. Studies show that experiential therapies – because they go to the place in our neurological structure for accessing pain rather than reasoning about that pain – are able to achieve significant healing for clients who suffer from depression, trauma and other emotional injuries. The rigid and static story becomes flexible, creating a shift and change within the person.
There is a vast difference between talking about an event from the past and having an experience in the present. For instance, talking about one’s mother distances the experience with mother. The here-and-now experience of talking to mother gives a vibrant immediacy in the moment. The premise of experiential therapy is that people do not make significant lasting change with their life problems until they experience an internal shift, which might involve release of pent-up bodily energy, experience and integrate a new emotion, a change in attitude, an ability to relax for the first time, or a surprising experience of themselves.
The skilled helper-healer facilitates a transformative experience that impacts the person on multiple levels – mind, body, spirit – and people notice distinct changes in themselves, their families or life situation. The difference between how it was then and how it is now is experienced as profound.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is a psychodrama trainer, psychotherapist and constellations facilitator. She presented at the 2011 Systemic Constellations Conference and is a member of the steering committee for the 2015 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Nov. 12-15 in San Diego. She is the author of Integrating Psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work: New Directions for Action Methods, Mind-Body Therapies and Energy Healing with Ronald Anderson and other books about experiential methods. Learn about her programs, books and retreats at http://www.lakehouscenter.com.