New Age psychologists look to ancient African wisdom to promote wellness

08 September 2019 - 00:00 By Melody Emmett
Family Constellations uses dolls to plot out family dynamics or to explore the relationship between emotions and tensions within an individual client.
Family Constellations uses dolls to plot out family dynamics or to explore the relationship between emotions and tensions within an individual client.
Image: Supplied

In the late '90s, Helen Michaletos met traditional healer Colin Campbell and in 2003 she was initiated by him and his brother, Niall, as a Malombo African doctor in the Venda tradition. This marked a radical departure for her.

After training with Tanja Meyburgh, founder of Family Constellations Africa, she began to incorporate Family Constellations work into her practice.

Family Constellations was developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist who was influenced by African cultural practices during his work as a Catholic missionary in KwaZulu-Natal, in particular by the transgenerational influence of ancestors.

After returning to Germany, Hellinger refined his philosophy, which is based on the idea that "Orders of Love" dictate intergenerational relationships - for better or worse - even after family members have passed on, and that healing is possible for individuals and their ancestors.

The "inner parts" work of Karin Huyssen, a Family Constellations facilitator and psychologist, also guides Michaletos's work. While Family Constellations' work focuses on intergenerational forces at play in an individual's life, "inner parts work" explores the interaction between aspects of an individual's psyche.

Michaletos compares her work with clients to a tapestry. "Somewhere in the tapestry there's a knot. Using Family Constellations, you follow the thread so that you can loosen a knot in the family system and allow it to unravel. This allows for more flow in a person's life. The tapestry analogy is strong for me. As I understand it, we are the sum total of our ancestors. They're in our DNA and they influence our behaviour. In the African healing context, ancestors aren't only outside of you; they reside within you and are part of you."

Work with a new client involves mapping out their family lineage and deciding what the client wants to balance or shift.

Dolls are used to plot out family dynamics or to explore the relationship between emotions and tensions within an individual client: the relationship between anger, fear, and shame, for example.

Michaletos also coaches clients to let go of clutter. "Moving objects around is like moving aspects of your psyche around," she says.

"Living in cluttered surroundings can create problems in relationships and quality of life."

"I love working with spaces," she says. "The results are profound; relief on a grand scale."


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