Connie Donaldson is no ordinary psychologist. In addition to individual counseling, This remarkable woman often invites distressed persons to a Constellation gathering. I have attended several such sessions to watch troubled persons begin to heal. Why? I’m fascinated for this reason: After a single session, I have witnessed an anxious or distraught individual leave the meeting room with new direction to their life, and a deep conviction that they have already started to change.
So what does this amazing woman do when she facilitates a Constellation? In the meetings I’ve attended, there are usually anywhere from seven to ten people in attendance. Some are there to observe; others participate if called upon. The Constellation begins when Connie asks for silence. Moments tick by. Then she asks one of the persons present who seeks help to come forward and sit beside her. A candle burns. The silence continues.
For the next five to ten minutes, Connie asks what it is that this person seeks. In the Constellations I’ve attended, troubled persons have requested help with a variety of issues. Some seek help with soured relationships with a parent, a spouse, or with family or relatives. Some seek help in moving on with their lives after a divorce or even the death of a loved one. Others seek stress relief because of a debilitating physical, mental, or social circumstance. But one thing is clear: the seekers who come forth know that within the next thirty to forty minutes, this therapist will help them tap into some form of immediate relief.
After this short interview, therapist Connie directs the participant to select key people who will stand in place of someone important to their problem issue. As selections take place, Connie repeats to each chosen person the critical role they will play in the seeker’s life. Selections always include a self-representative, and maybe a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a stepfamily member-any important player in the seeker’s life.
The seeker stands. In silence, s/he physically moves representatives to positions in the room that feel comfortable IF s/he was standing in their midst. There is no haste here. At times, a representative will be placed facing a wall or corner, while another might stand almost touching the person the seeker has chosen for self-representation. When the seeker feels these persons correctly represent her/his feelings at that moment in time, Connie begins her healing procedure.
She reminds each representative to center her/himself into the roll assigned. Silence continues. The room fills with it. Each chosen person allows their inner spirit to fall into service to help the troubled seeker. Connie asks each spokesperson how they feel in their service role. Replies: “distant,” “unloved,” “I don’t know,” “I have no feeling right now,” “I want to help,” “revengeful,” “supporting,” “tense,” or a host of responses too numerous to list here. Connie tells each representative, “If and when you feel like moving in the room, do so, but only if you feel the urge.”
In the silence, a visible dynamic overcomes everyone present, even onlookers. I cannot explain it. It happens. It is real. It spreads throughout. Because while Connie probes the hurting person’s feelings; at the same time, she inquires about the feelings each representative is presently sensing toward the seeker who sits watching this drama.
And for an inexplicable reason, the spokespersons become the people they represent. They listen. They answer. They feel. They offer support. A face does not lie. Some weep. At times they turn slightly, or take small steps away or closer. When Connie asks the participant if these selectees truly reflect the troublesome situation they’re in; remarkably, the answer is, “Yes!”
Now the seeker stands to represent her/himself. With coaching words from Connie, this person interacts with representatives-some who stand-in for family members of another generation-a mother, a father, a brother, a grandmother or grandfather of long ago-a forgotten someone who by familial connection has influenced this pained person’s present life.
I have been a representative many times. I have allowed myself to say words which I’m not sure where they came from or exactly why I said them. But when servicing a hurting person, my role just came to me. There is no explanation for this. Psychiatrist Albrecht Mahr in his book, The Knowing Field (1999), talks about this unusual power of individuals to say things and feel things that accurately reflect how the hurting person and their representatives feel. Yet, in many ways, few words are really spoken. It is a more silent healing that invades all present.
Towards the end of the Constellation experience, it appears that an overwhelming feeling of release along with genuine support settles upon the healing person. That individual seems relieved to leave their weighty problem behind in this room; with these people; and in many cases, with total strangers. S/he can move on in peace with a sense of healing which has just begun in this sacred space.
Connie Donaldson has a special gift for this type of work. If there are others like her, they are few. Her therapy is not the “stuff” that just any counselor or therapist might use. She has helped any number of persons take their first steps toward wholesomeness. I will continue to attend such Constellation experiences as long as this gifted woman shares with me the opportunity to help others.
Connie Donaldson, MA, resides in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.