Constellations in Coaching

Ram Ramanathan  •  May 17, 2018  •  5 min read

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Constellations in Coaching

In all chaos there is a cosmos. In all disorder a secret order.

Carl Jung

I recently had the opportunity to review John Whittington’s book, Systemic Coaching and Constellations for a coaching journal. To do it justice, I needed to experiment and prove to myself the constellations concepts worked. Let’s explore what constellations are and how you can use them in your coaching practice.

What are constellations?

According to John Whittington’s book, there is a secret order amidst the perceived chaos that a coach helps a client decipher. (Whittington acknowledges the contribution of Bert Hellinger’s theory of constellations in families.)

Constellations are formed with simple pieces of what is available such as household items as I have shown, or office equipment, or customized figurines if you are a perfectionist. These can be depicted on a table top like pieces in a chess game while coaching individuals. They can also be depicted with real people, especially in a work environment and team coaching.

Clients lead the positioning pieces in a constellation. They place them or ask others to position themselves in spaces facing in specific directions at predetermined distances and in an order of time sequence as the situation unfolds in their mind. Each of these factors, where pieces are placed, facing what, at what distance and in what sequence reflects the current reality of the client.

Client may then move the pieces based on own reflection triggered by coach’s question. These changes are significant and need exploration, which in turn create insights and options. The dynamic positioning of the constellation pieces differentiates it from a static mapping of the situation.

Constellations in action

Using my tabletop and few coffee mugs along with pencils, erasers and other small office equipment, my client created her constellation at work and family. As she moved the pieces reflecting and having a monologue on what each object represented and why she put it where she put it, the secret order started emerging. It was a coach’s delight to watch as more and more insights helped her identify her limiting beliefs and the awareness of what may be options open to resolve them.

At one level application of the constellation concept is fairly simple once the coach understands the dynamics. At another level, it does require some mastery is letting the client interpret with what Whittington terms as hidden forces and key processes of constellations.

The hidden forces are:

  • Time
  • Place
  • Exchange

The key processes are:

  • Movement &
  • Sentences

The hidden forces of time, place and exchange create the movement in a constellation. Sentences allow the coach to explore and client to insight.

Constellations hidden forces: Place

Though Whittington starts with Time, in my brief experience Place as in placing the pieces in the constellation is perhaps what occurs to client first, unless coach indicates that they be placed in time sequence. Typically client looks at current reality of people and systems involved in a situation, and positions them in relation to each other. They are placed in distances that reflect relationship. They may be placed with directional indicators if the pieces have handles or markers to show whether they relate well or not well.  

As client progresses these pieces may leave or new pieces may enter. Sometimes hidden pieces are kept aside exerting influence without being there.

Client is asked to share why the pieces are where they are in terms of distances from each other as well as directions facing, and also when upon some questions from coach the pieces are rearranged.

Constellations hidden forces: Time

Along with Place, Time at which pieces appear on the scene are important and client can share why someone comes first and another comes later or why someone leaves.

Acknowledging influence of Place and Time in how pieces are positioned in a constellation is key to client insights.

Constellations hidden forces: Exchange

Whittington says that is systems as they are represented in the constellation a dynamic balance of giving and receiving is critical. How the client perceives this exchange can make the difference between happiness and sadness, motivation and frustration.

Constellations key processes: Movement

Movement is what makes the constellation dynamic and alive. Movement raises a cognitive conversation to an emotional experiencing as client moves the pieces in response to won reflections and coach queries. It is important client shares not only thoughts, but far more importantly the emotions associated with movement. This can lead to powerful somatic experiential immersion, and therefore insights that help client move forward and grow.

Constellations key processes: Sentences

Sentences are offered by coach as invitation evocatively, spontaneously, curiously and without judgment to enable the client express feelings and experiences.  Since constellation experiences can go much deeper coach needs to have mastered the art of presence, trust and partnering while asking by offering sentences. Coach should be completely willing to accept any rejection from client on the offer.

For those who wish to explore their own self, deeper Family of Origin exercise is helpful.

I found Whittington’s book useful in individual, team, and systemic coaching as well as in supervision. This article is the tip of the iceberg in relation to the wisdom of the book. You can buy in on Amazon.

Ram Ramanathan

Ram

Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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