Constellation work in supervision

Why should we work with constellations in supervision?

John Whittington (a leadership coach, constellations facilitator and trainer of other coaches based in London, UK) lists the following conclusions that a group of his students had come to after a day of exploring supervision using constellations:
  • This approach limits the chances of the supervisor and the supervisee getting entangled in the story, having opinions about what the supervisee “should” have done, etc.
  • Constellations seem to be able to open up a much larger field of possibilities and solutions than a discussion or “ordinary” supervision; it’s literally beyond the imagination …
  • This creates a safe space in which you can co-create fresh solutions ..
  • This work itself and the picture of the path to resolution are embodied so go in, and stay in, at a different level. Not just in the head, but felt and retained somewhere deeper. That’s so useful when you are about to face a challenging client …
In working with constellations we take an external perspective on individual, professional and institutional questions. Thus interactions, patterns and processes become visible – especially the ones that happen on an unconscious level.
Means that what we encounter, or how we feel is not our thoughts or opinion, it is a true representation of the state the person or aspect is in which we represent.

What is the uniqueness of the constellation method?

The uniqueness of the constellation method is in its phenomenological approach which allows for the emergence of the so called “Knowing Field” – a field of information which we share with other people, our families, other groups we belong to, and with the humanity at large. It is through this field and through what is called the phenomenon of representative perception, that we have direct access to a knowledge that supports us in finding solutions and answers to the questions we put and the issues we have to solve. We could say that your body serves as the perceptive organ that renders “audible” or “visible” what’s going on underneath.
A constellation creates a three-dimensional physical map of the inner, unconscious relationship pattern. This map therefore enables “super-vision” of the relationship system and offers a perspective that quickly reveals dynamics and truths not accessible through discussion or experience alone. A constellation offers a place for projections, parallel process, transference and counter transference, and stories that keep us stuck as counsellors.

What traditional models of supervision do I work with?

When I did my supervision training we learned about different models of supervision. 2 of them I felt most connected with.
One was Inskipp&Proctor’s (2001) 3 tasks of supervision. They see supervision as support (restorative) learning and growth (formative), and monitoring (normative).
The other one was Hawkins & Shohet’s 7-eyed model which I immediately felt connected to the constellation approach. (7 eyes)

Some more important aspects of constellations:

  • Previously inaccessible information can surface through the words, sensations, postures and sharing of the representatives.
  • It is a somatic approach in which the supervisee can find the place in the system from where they can be most useful. Bert Hellinger said something about the difference of being helpful and being useful in service of the whole system. He says: “Have no intention! Especially to help!”
  • Constellations show if we get too close and too entangled with our clients to be useful. If we try to be helpful or force action, or take responsibility away from where it belongs in the system. They often bring relief to the supervisee at taking the emphasis off being helpful and instead standing back and seeing the whole picture.
  • It allows an opportunity to open up other possibilities and paths to resolution by simply mapping “what is”.
  • We can even fine-tune this aspect which is uniquely powerful and often a source of deep insight
  • The supervisee is able to consider and observe the persons or aspects involved in their question from an external perspective and understand unconscious and hidden issues.
  • The supervisee is able to move freely and try out additional options.
  • It changes something in the supervisee – like a re-aligned inner stance, a sense of “right place”
  • Most of the time all supervisees are needed by the constellation, so everyone comes away with a direct experience of what it feels like to stand in a field of information, in the flow of a system.
  • Also if not all supervisees are required in the constellation, there is still a powerful learning experience to be had from watching. Sometimes this can lead to embodying a part of the system that has not been consciously represented in the constellation.
  • In the constellation we can also try out possible changes of perspectives and solutions.
  • The supervisee is able to experience the various representative positions her/himself and try out the “places”. This will allow new experiences to be gathered, scenarios to be tested, hypotheses tested and limits explored. Eventually, she can find the “best” place for herself to work most effectively with the client related to the question. And only changing our inner attitude can have deep effects in our practice.

 My task as a supervisor

My task as supervisor is to facilitate the process, look at the changes, support the dynamics and to ensure the greatest possible transparency.
It is to create the safe space for you and to provide the systemic framework and the systemic posture which includes the appreciation of all supervisees, their clients and the respective systems.
In addition, creating a mindful (I would rather say heartful) space in dealing with difficult issues, monitor the agreement of the group and make sure that privacy and ethical codes of the relative professional bodies are respected.

Are there limits to this kind of supervision?

The limits of this kind of supervision come up when we touch the client’s system. The statements of the representatives give insights into possible familial dynamics of the client system. This knowledge is used in the constellation to search for solutions in the overall system.
Though in the constellation it might show up which kind of work would be supportive in the client’s system, we cannot work with their system without their permission. Besides the ethical issue, this is one of the “orders of love” – to respect the other person’s fate.

General consideration

Joining such a supervision group based on the constellation approach, the supervisees are aware that this method is the main tool for supervision.
As usually in this work, also in the supervision group no one is forced to act as a representative, that is, the various roles can be rejected without giving reasons.
And of course, a relationship of trust among the participants of the supervision group is necessary. Usually through the constellation work we understand that we are all in the same “shoes”, that in whatever method we are trained and how many hours of personal therapy we might have had, there are still blind spots and things to discover. And after all – no one of us is perfect.
Such a group is intended to be an environment of growth, mutual support and self-development, of an encounter in a non-judgmental space.
And though it is us who participate, who are the counsellors or therapists – supervision is done for the highest good of the client. It is not a group to show how good we are or how another one would need to improve, but about understanding how we can be of the best support for our clients. As I already mentioned – not most helpful, but most useful.
Along with the case studies or questions – if the participants wish so – there could always be a small part dedicated to the theory of constellations (or questions regarding transgenerational connections and consequences) and exercises regarding experiencing what we call “the field” we are working in constellations.

=> back to “SUPERVISION”