Put simply, family constellations is a therapy that aims to reveal hidden dynamics in a family or relationship and address any stressors impacting these relationships and change them. Family constellations therapy is used to find out patterns of mental health concerns, illness, negative emotions, and potentially destructive behaviours.

In a conversation with Margaret Krijnen, on integrative medicine, she told me about the health centre that she has brought to the Algarve - named Alegria Health - and some of the many therapies that we can find there to heal people and promote wellbeing. One of them that intrigued me was family constellations.

The family constellation can be with an individual or in a group. In a group, the therapy brings together people who are not related but will recreate family ties. Imagine a room with 10 people, one of them will represent the father of an individual, the next one the mother, the other a sister and so on.

In this kind of “theatre”, these people even without knowing anything about their colleagues’ lives, will represent their relatives. According to Margaret Krijnen, who has spent many years studying health, both traditional western medicine and integrative medicine, “if a person in the group has problems, for example, with their sister, it is probable that the individual who is representing their sister will behave in the same way that their sister actually does, then we can identify that there is a pattern”. Also, with this represention, people will be able to understand if the problem that they have with a relative, a husband, a boyfriend, even a boss, is an isolated problem or a pattern that this person has developed.

And what is a pattern? Margaret Krijnen from Alegria Health Center explains: “For example, a person who has constant problems with their boss in all of the jobs they have had” – changes their job and the problem continues into an another, the next job boss behaves like the previous boss, although it is a totally different person. “This situation might mean that the problem with their boss could be linked with someone in their family, like their father”, said the doctor.

“There are cases where in therapies, groups happen where we can see that a person is representing as a sister, without being aware that the sister they are representing behaves exactly like her and it’s very interesting to observe”, says Margaret.

Familiar constellation is about working on breaking the chain. This means that when people are aware of what is causing some of their problems they are more prepared to fix and deal with it. “The moment when a person becomes aware of their pattern, is the first step of the treatment”, she concluded.

It may be used as a potential therapy method for people who are seeking to address negative or harmful relationship patterns, who want to improve family relationships, who have experienced significant trauma, who are in search of personal and professional success. However, for what I understand, namely in relationships it could be interesting to find out more about patterns and stop them when they are negative.

This therapy has already been used in court and recommended by judges and mediators to streamline agreements and promote conflict resolution, particularly in family and marital relationships. However, the Ordem dos Psicólogos has issued an opinion in which it states that that family constellations is not a recognized therapeutic model for psychological science, demarcating itself as a therapy for lack of scientific basis, continuing to be accepted only by holistic medicine.

After all, a question arises, could we make it for ourselves, in other words, could we find these negative patterns alone with some reflections? Margaret says yes. Without thirds support is possible to identify a pattern, a repeated situation that we want to change in our lives. And, according to Margaret, this change can perfectly be done, beginning with consciousness of that pattern.

Further Information:
Alegria Health Center:

Ordem dos Psicologos opinion article: