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TIDINGS PRINTS QUESTIONABLE THERAPY STORY - BERT HELLINGER'S "SOUL ENTANGLEMENTS"

A LETTER TO THE EDITOR -- ASHLAND DAILY TIDINGS, ASHLAND, OR.

October 20, 2003

by Lorie Anderson

Once again, the Tidings promoted a dubious practice as news: "Movements of the Soul," therapy created by Bert Hellinger. The reporter didn't reveal why it is controversial. Is it because of its convoluted, unverifiable and outdated theories?

Hellinger says our problems arise from "soul entanglements" revealed through "family constellations," a form of group role-playing. The article reports "magic" and "mystery," as representatives "know" the feelings of people they never met. Or, do they? A family constellation may include representatives of deceased relatives, ancestors, stillborn babies, fetuses, former spouses, and perpetrators against someone in the family tree, etc. The living are not typically asked and the dead are not available to attest to the accuracy of the representations.

A few of Hellinger's questionable positions include:

  • A breast cancer victim may secretly want to die due to a woman's unconscious "war with her mother."

  • Homosexuality often results because a boy must assume the feelings of a deceased sister when there are no female siblings in the family to do it.

  • Rape and incest create a bond; the perpetrator must receive "due respect" before the victim can bond with another.

  • Punishment of an incest perpetrator should be avoided as it could create suicidal feelings in the victim.

  • A victim can end incest by saying to her mother, "I do it for you," and to her father, "I do it for my mother."

    One mystery remains: Why does the Tidings keep entangling spurious practices with the news?

    Lorie Anderson
    (end of letter to the editor)


    SOME BIZARRE HELLINGER QUOTES ON INCEST:

    "Now about incest. If you are confronted with cases of incest, a very common dynamic is that the wife withdraws from her husband, she refuses a sexual relationship. Then, as a kind of compensation, a daughter takes her place. This is an unconscious movement, not a conscious one. But you see, with incest there are two perpetrators, one in the background and one in the open. You cannot resolve that unless this hidden perpetrator is brought in. There are very strange sentences that come to light. The daughter can tell her mother, "I do it for you." And she can tell her father, "I do it for mother." What is the effect of these sentences? Incest cannot go on anymore. If you want to stop it, this is the best way without any accusations.

    If you bring a perpetrator to justice, then the victim will atone for what is done to the perpetrator."

    Hellinger goes on to tell a story of an incest/abuse victim who became suicidal, because the perpetrator was prosecuted.


    HELLINGER LETTER - POEM TO HITLER:

    [Note from Lorie Anderson: Personally, I find this poem offensive, but I understand that while some may interpret this poem as anti-semitic, others may argue that it expresses a viewpoint about the equality of human value regardless of one's actions, even the actions of a Hitler. I include it here for interest and discussion.]

    Note from the translator: "The following letter in poetic form was written by Bert Hellinger to Adolf Hitler. It appears in the original German on page 247 of Bert's latest book called "Gottesgedanken" ("Divine Reflections") published in 2004. I just made this new American English translation today."
    Thomas Mellett
    Van Nuys, CA

      Hitler,

      I look upon you as a human being
      Just like me,
      With a father, with a mother,
      And with a definite destiny.

      Are you therefore superior to me?
      Or are you inferior?

      Are you better than me
      or worse than me?

      If you are superior, then so am I.
      If you are inferior, then so am I.
      If you are better than me or worse,
      Then I am that, too.

      For I am a human being just like you.
      If I were to respect you, then I respect myself.
      If I detest you, then I detest myself.

      Dare I love you?
      Am I obliged to love you?
      Because if I donít,
      Then how could I be allowed
      To love myself?

      If I acknowledge that you were human,
      Just like me,
      Then I must look at something
      That created both of us ---

      Equally ---
      Something that created you as well as me ---
      Something that even determines
      How we are both destroyed.

      How could I possibly exclude myself
      From our common ultimate source ---
      All the while I am excluding you?

      How could I ever blame this ultimate cause
      And raise myself so far above it
      As long as I am blaming you?

      Yet I dare not pity you.

      The ultimate cause of your rise and fall
      Is no different from mine.

      I honor it in you
      As I honor it in myself,
      And I surrender to everything
      It has created in you ---

      And to everything it has created in me ---
      As well as to all it has created
      In every other human being.

      Translated by Thomas Mellett
      Van Nuys, California, USA
      April 10, 2006
      Tombuoyed@aol.com

    COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION are welcome. (Note that two Hellinger discussion threads have been archived. You can review those threads via the provided links, but you have to return to the active discussion page to be able to post.)

    LINKS TO CRITICAL COMMENTARY

  • "Bert Hellinger's Controversial Therapy." A summary of two articles that originally appeared in the Dutch antifascist magazine "Alert!" translated into English, by Herman Nimis, September 2005.
  • "Family Consternations and Transgenerational Dealing," South African Skeptics website; forum thread, 2007.
  • "Dancing with Souls," by Florian Burkhardt, Indymedia Ireland, May 12, 2006. Article and reader comments. Also see reader comments on a large excerpt of this article posted at Blog called "warren ellis is web 9.0,"May 6 2006.
  • "An Open Letter of Clarification to the Systemic Constellations Community from DGfS and ISCA," written some time after February 2008.

    RELATED LINKS:

  • NY Times.com article: "For Psychotherapy's Claims, Skeptics Demand Proof" by Benedict Carey, August 10, 2004.
  • The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. "Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work."
  • "Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work" by Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.
  • The Skeptic's Dictionary -- (New Age) Psychotherapies

    A type of therapy with noteworthy mainstream scientific support:

  • Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research.

    DIRECT (mostly) EMAIL MESSAGES TO LORIE FROM READERS (with their permission to post) and LORIE'S REPLIES:


    Subject: Bert Hellinger's TransGenerational Family Constellation Work
    Date: 12/10/2003
    SOMEONE WROTE:

    I personally have experienced Hellinger's work and find it quite powerful. Yes, I did feel the feelings of the person I was representing in the constellation. Because we are always free to tap into any block of Universal Consciousness where every thought, feeling and experience is recorded as a vibrational frequency, we can access anything that has ever gone before us, even when it is not our own personal experience. I can understand your skepticism if you have not participated in this work. But I can tell you that I was impressed, and I have been involved in alternative therapies for about 25 years.

    If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact me.

    Date: 12/11/2003
    LORIE REPLIED:

    Thank you for writing.

    A variety of interactive experiences can feel powerful to those involved, especially among those predisposed to be amenable to it, but that doesn't say anything to me about its efficacy as a psychotherapy. Only objective tests can measure that. To me, the premises have to make sense, at least, and they don't.

    How do you know you felt exactly what the other person felt? Many people who are represented in this therapy are deceased and no one can know what the person would say. Even if a living person agreed that you were feeling the same things they felt or feel, people have so much in common that it wouldn't be surprising to me. What you experienced could simply have been human commonality. Even across cultures, especially in this day and age, humans are very similar, but it would at least be more interesting to see how well people do when representing people from vastly different cultures.

    Some tests could be set up, though, to see if representatives reliably pick up on the feelings of the people they represent by doing blinded, controlled experiments conducted by an objective party. Perhaps the James Randi Education Foundation would accept an application by Hellinger or one of Hellinger's supporters to see if they can demonstrate the paranormal claims of this therapy (e.g. that a "representative" mysteriously knows what a complete stranger is feeling/thinking by standing in a certain position in relation to others in a "family constellation") -- and win a million dollar award if they do.

    Meanwhile, the Tidings article that prompted my letter to the editor reports that Hellinger says we must not question the mystery, just let it happen, so Hellinger may well not approve of any unbiased, blinded studies. Also, Hellinger admits he dismisses a family constellation if it isn't working. That's convenient, to promote a therapeutic method as effective while dismissing those groups that don't appear to be meeting his expected positive results.

    What is your evidence that every thought, feeling and experience of everyone who ever lived is retained as a permanent record in the form of vibrational frequencies?

    There may have been 106,456,367,669 people who were ever born, according to one well-considered estimate that I found online. We must also consider how many other creatures with thoughts, feelings, and experiences have ever lived. And, let's not forget that Hellinger includes aborted embryos and fetuses in the family constellation. Meanwhile, we each must have had an astronomical number of feelings, thoughts, and experiences in our lifetimes.

    You are asking me to believe that all these thoughts and feelings are forever floating around us as vibrations, and, further, that by simply standing in a certain way with a group of people you can somehow capture these vibrations and experience them yourself as the unique thoughts and feelings of any particular being who was ever conceived?

    I find it easier to believe that it's the power of suggestion and selective thinking, and human commonality, among other typical human traits, that could cause people to believe they are receiving the thoughts/feelings/experiences of someone else.

    That said, nevertheless, I'm glad you personally found this therapy to be powerful.

    (Note: This reply was edited a bit after sent, for greater clarity.)

    Date: 12/12/2003
    S/HE WROTE AGAIN:

    Hello Lorie,

    I find your response quite interesting. You might be right and I have no way to prove otherwise. I personally believe the consciousness of the researchers affects the outcomes in the same way a person's biases are factors in the outcome of muscle testing, if you are familiar with that. Always, the intention must be pure.

    As far as ferreting out frequencies that are specific, absolutely. You can tap into the universal data bank in the same way you tap into a computer data bank, through thought intention...that gives you access to all information you specifically request. However, your personal processing of that information is affected by your subconscious filters or resonance that affects the results. So, it is all very subjective but very powerful to the experienced person who knows how to work with this fabulous array of frequencies. I have enjoyed our exchange but will have to disconnect at this point. I wish you well with what you are doing and suspect our paths will cross again at some future time. Feel free to use my email but please do not include my full name or company name. thank you.




    Subject: Constellation Therapy
    Date: June 9, 2004
    SOMEONE WROTE:

    Question, have you ever heard of a therapist who practices constellation therapy to become angry and hostile towards her client/patient? I have recently experienced this. My therapist got visibly angry and hostile towards me when I would not agree with her. During a constellation, she wanted me to look towards the piece of paper that represented my mother and tell my mother "I could kill you." I told her I could not do this because I did not have those feelings.

    Is this the norm for this type of therapy? Is it also normal for the therapist to become angry or upset? I think not. I have since canceled my next appt. and am seeking another therapist. I have known this therapist for many years. Have not always gone on a regular basis but recently agreed to try the constellation therapy. Does it work or not? Did I just have the wrong therapist? I would appreciate your comments.

    Thanks.

    Date: 6/9/2004
    LORIE REPLIED:

    Sorry you had such a bad experience. As you can gather from my online commentaries, I am quite skeptical about such therapies. I believe that some people find it powerful and helpful, but I would need to see some objective studies on its short and long term efficacy in order for me to believe that it significantly reduces psychological difficulties. Their underlying premises seem off-base to me.

    I have seen where talking to an inanimate object representing a significant person in oneís life can help the person to practice expressing his/her feelings or to sort out their feelings or to serve as a release of strong emotion Ė similar to asking a person what s/he would want to say to the person if s/he were sitting in the room right now. But personally I canít see the benefit of telling a piece of paper representing your mother that you could kill her. Yikes! Maybe saying ďI feel furious at you for doing xyzĒ or ďI will never let you hurt me again,Ē but KILL?!? I think the guilt feelings that would result from such a pronouncement would far outweigh any benefits.

    I applaud you for assertively standing up to the therapist in your refusal to express feelings that you don't feel. I hope you recognize the psychological strength of standing up for your convictions.

    I suspect that the therapist believes in repressed anger and primal therapy and that confronting and antagonizing clients to release anger will result in a catharsis for the client and, thus, a resolution of the anger. This approach might presume, per psychoanalysis, that we all feel intense hostility toward our same-gender parent because we unconsciously desired to have sex with our other-gender parent, and that we tend to repress this anger by pushing it into our unconscious mind, and that this unconscious anger causes most of our psychological difficulties, and that release of this presumed unconscious anger results in an improved psychological condition Ė too many presumptions, if you ask me. I donít think any of these presumptions are based on scientific research.

    Bert Hellinger is regarded as an authority on family constellation therapy, and from what I have read online, your therapist belied Bert Hellingerís approach. For example, I read this: ďHellingerís style is calm, focused, never overtly encouraging of catharsis.Ē And, I donít believe he would regard a piece of paper as capable of representing someone in a family constellation (although Iím not positive about that). Your therapist seems to not be following Hellingerís approach, however I am not saying this makes her approach any less valid than his because Hellingerís approach doesnít make any sense to me either.

    Psychotherapy presents a wide variety of hypotheses and methodologies, many not based on any objective scientific evidence at all, or weak evidence at best. Given this situation, that licensed professionals can creatively invent their own premises and approaches to psychotherapy, it is important for consumers to be discerning and shop around.

    Again, Iím sorry you experienced a hostile therapist. I suspect she meant well, for whatever that is worth.

    By the way, Iím not a psychotherapist, so please donít rely on my answers alone. I have a degree in psychology and am a former social work counselor, so I'm familiar with the field, but I am responding mostly as someone who has been striving to discern fact from fiction from among all the various claims that bombard us all.

    Good luck,

    Lorie




    Subject: "Bert Hellinger"
    Date: June 15, 2004
    SOMEONE WROTE:

    Of course you are doubtful. On paper none of this makes much sense but if you were to experience it for yourself you would have to trust in something bigger than Reason orTherapy. Bert Hellinger's work goes well beyond therapy and is revolutionary. One day this will probably overturn therapy as it is perceived and practised today.

    Having attended several of Hellinger's workshops I can see and feel for myself what works, and after the work people return to report changes in their lives that may appear to be inexplicable. No doubt you would say coincidence. Of course the dead cannot answer the questions, but to have a representative in a family constellation report that they hear a particular song, and have the client report then and there that that was the song his grandmother used to sing.... to have people return having worked at honouring a excluded member of their family and find that within a few months that a lost relative (lost for possibly twenty years) suddenly feels the urge to get back in touch.... The system just works, and you can see it for yourself if you were brave enough to put cynical self through it rather than stand and throw tomatoes from the sidelines.

    One of the things that comes over loud and clear when Bert works with therapists in this way is that they are the worse people to work with, so set in their ways and need to help others. God help us from those. This isn't a cult. Even when Bert says things that seem difficult to swallow there is a part inside that accepts it because it is so obviously true at a much deeper level than pure reason. It may well be the reason is all that you follow. I wonder what entanglement you are involved in.

    Date: 6/26/2004
    LORIE REPLIED:

    Iíve been pondering how or whether I should respond to your message, as I realize you and I are, in some ways, from two different worlds as far as how we go about discerning fact from fiction. I decided to give it a shot and write it in a way that might interest or benefit others, as I may decide to post it on my web page. I am almost positive that my words will blow right past you. You seem very inclined to blow off anyone who criticizes this type of therapy.

    I have come to greatly value, and feel enlightened by, logic and reason and responsible use of the scientific method of inquiry, all derived from of our uniquely advanced intelligence as Homo sapiens. I depend on this to help me to evaluate the credibility and efficacy of the countless claims we all hear about -- without having to experience each one directly, which would be impractical if not impossible to do within one human lifespan. Personally, I know I can be fooled, and I know I can misinterpret cause and effect when trying to evaluate a practice or product. I know that we canít always see the big picture and we are influenced by the expectancy/placebo effect, wishful thinking, peer pressure, marketing pressure, trickery, bias, etc.

    A therapy can be significantly effective, I realize, even if its premises are faulty or unsupported, but we cannot know if it's efficacious without objective measures. Hellingerís participants are not randomly selected, and I suspect they are typically self-screened to believe in paranormal events, so anecdotes are bound be favorable. Some studies have shown that people who are inclined to believe paranormal explanations also tend to underestimate how often various events would occur naturally by chance.

    Potentially, some who try this therapy and donít find it beneficial may quietly drop out or stuff their criticism, lest they risk rebuke or guilt feelings for being too ďentangledĒ or otherwise hard to work with, as I see you are prone to describe those who donít buy this approach.

    Even if this therapy is efficacious, its successes could easily be due to factors unrelated to its premises and paranormal claims such as that representatives know complete strangersí actual feelings and thoughts and that any event involving exclusion in a clientís family throughout history can greatly impact a clientís psychological well-being today. For one, itís not surprising that many people feel good (which is not necessarily the same as achieving psychological improvement) when provided with attention, camaraderie, support, a belief that they are gaining true insight, and the expectation that a process will help them.

    Of course I would first seek plausible explanations for implausible claims. First, your anecdotal ďevidenceĒ is meaningless because there are too many things that could interfere with a clear assessment. Thatís why we humans cleverly devised the scientific method of inquiry, to control for such variables. The following tendencies may well explain the perception of supernatural and successful outcomes from family constellations: selective thinking/confirmation bias, communal reinforcement, post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy (assuming a cause and effect relationship between events that occurred sequentially), self-deception, ad hoc hypotheses (explaining away outcomes that donít fit by invoking another unsupported or untestable hypothesis), the P.T. Barnum effect (our tendency to perceive common and general descriptions as unique and insightful to us as individuals), regressive fallacy (wrongly crediting a product or therapy for improvement while ignoring the natural tendency for many physical or mental problems to wax and wane or resolve themselves without intervention), and pragmatic fallacy (e.g.assuming that positive outcomes are a result of the therapy when they could be the result of something quite ordinary or incidental to that therapy).

    (See The Skeptic's Dictionary for further definitions and explanations of these terms.)

    Perhaps this approach should be regarded primarily as a religion or belief system, if we are asked to simply believe that the premises and claims are true. I understand that if a family constellation isnít working, Hellinger dismisses the group. Now thatís a good way to make it appear that constellations always work. If I want to claim that all the apples in my barrel are good ones, I can simply remove the bad ones and say, ďSee, itís just as I told you.Ē

    By the way, I never mentioned anything about Hellinger's therapy being a "cult." I have to wonder why you even brought that up.

    All criticism of this therapy aside, I am happy for you that you find this method effective. But, I do hope and believe that my commentaries might help some people to examine this approach with a critical eye to see if it is credible and right for them before they invest their emotions and time and money in it.

    Thank you for writing.

    Lorie



    Date: November 18, 2004
    Jeff Drake (Arlington, Virginia) wrote:

    I've done the Bert Hellinger family constellation work. It was a wonderful emotional catharsis and very powerful work for me. I think it's valuable to be in touch with one's emotions and to not stuff them down as we (especially men) in the United States and so many other cultures learn to do. It was never portrayed that the feelings we felt were anyone else's feelings but our own. It was a real opening for me to greater empathy for others. I understood my family dynamics better and had much greater compassion for everyone. Did I feel any "soul connections?" Actually, I did. Those were the words I used after participating, and that was the best way I had to describe parts of my experience. The therapist did the work without describing what would happen or what we would or should experience, so I feel he did not try to influence our interpretations of our experience. We did get to core issues in our family relationships, and to core issues for ourselves as individuals that grew out of our childhood and family history.

    I appreciate your willingness to dialogue with people about Hellinger's work. Since you have not done the work yourself, you might (being an empiricist) take note of how many people have found it to be excellent, or of no value, or somewhere in between. Put me in the column of those who have experienced it and believe it is very valuable. It is one thing to look with "a critical eye to see if it is credible and right... before" investing emotion, time, and money in something. But I have learned that it is far more important to trust people who I know because some things have to be experienced to be known. We can never know how valuable something will be in advance- it requires our participation and then our assessment. Even then our knowledge is limited to what happened that particular time, with that particular group of people or that Family Constellation practitioner.

    Give it a whirl sometime with an experienced and respected practitioner. Find a way to witness the work, to talk to people who have done the work. If you rely on the Skeptics Dictionary to point you to valuable work- good luck! While we must not accept everything people tell us blindly, the authors of that dictionary obviously come from a paradigm that will question the value of everything, whether they have done it or not, even if the people who have done that program or practice, or had that experience, found it extremely valuable.

    People who have found Bert Hellinger's Family Constellation work to be valuable should be trusted for being able to judge its value.

    My best,
    Jeff

    Date: November 20, 2004
    LORIE REPLIED:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for writing. I think much of what we could discuss is summed up in this article that you can read here in this article.

    I couldn't tell from your message if you participated in Hellinger therapy as the identified client or as a "representative," but if you were a representative, and the emotions you felt were your own and not those of the person you were representing, then I would say that you didn't have a Hellinger experience. Hellinger's position, as I understand it, is that a representative in someone's family constellation is serving as a kind of antenna for communication that is emanating from someone else's soul -- channeling, if you will, the soul of someone in the identified client's family history that is floating around in some kind of universal consciousness. So, if the emotions you felt were your own when you were standing in as a representative, then the family constellation, ala Hellinger, apparently did not work.

    Catharsis and a sense of being more in-touch with your emotions can create a sense of a powerful experience, but this too does not appear to be the main point of Hellinger's work, as I understand it, but perhaps secondary or peripheral. And, catharsis may not be all that it has been cracked up to be for mental health. Hellinger doesn't seem to be aiming for participants to experience catharsis.

    There are many types of therapy and even common experiences (sometimes even movies and books, a loving and kind group and/or family encounter, intimate encounters, etc.) that elicit or allow expression of personal and strong emotion and give us insight into ourselves and our families, many types of experiences where you walk away feeling like something powerful had just happened. But Hellinger's claim to fame, and this is a major part of what I object to, is that he purports that the representatives in the family constellations actually feel and experience the unique memories and emotions of someone else, either living or dead, fetuses, or someone outside the family who was rejected/excluded even generations back in the client's very loosely defined "family."

    We aren't talking here about representatives getting in touch with their feelings, and not about empathy, not even about projecting one's own feelings -- but about supernatural soul connections. I don't buy it.

    I don't think the onus is on me to do research on this dubious therapy. I agree with Carl Sagan and other brilliant scientists who suggest that the burden of proof lies with those making the extraordinary claim (e.g. paranormal claims). I don't see any credible evidence that Hellinger's, or anyone's, paranormal claims are based on fact. I see simpler reasons to explain why some people might feel pleased or impacted after participating in Hellinger's or any group therapy experience: a supportive and caring group and therapist with whom you can trust sharing private emotions, the emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation, the belief that something spiritual is taking place, the sense of relief of catharsis, etc.

    I see no good evidence to support what I regard as offensive assumptions about homosexuality, adoption, rape and incest victims, victims of cancer, etc. Sure he says many things that do make sense, I don't dispute that. But, personally I found his good points to be "common sense." It often happens, especially among those in need, that if people hear some things that make sense and that resonate with them, they will open their minds to some nonsense mixed in.

    I don't "rely" on the Skeptics Dictionary or any skeptic organizations, but I am very grateful for them! I felt like I hit the jackpot when I discovered them. I especially appreciate James Randi -- what a great idea he had to offer a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate their paranormal claims under mutually acceptable controlled conditions. Pure genius! He's a great magician, and it takes one (an expert in creating illusions) to know, and expose, one. I have found the discovery of these resources to be a "powerful," eye-opening, and profound experience for me. Humans are great self-deluders, including myself, and we are vulnerable to attempts by others, even if well intentioned, to delude us.

    Thanks to the skeptic sites, I have emptied my medicine cabinet of phony "homeopathetic" garbage (after having read countless hours worth of pros and cons on the subject and ended up really feeling disgusted!) and no longer waste my money on useless healing magnets, untested fad herbal pills, etc. Of course I still try things that aren't well tested, if the premise seems plausible and it appears safe, but I'm aware that I could be kidding myself, and I disagree with some things on the skeptic sites, but that's the point! -- to use critical-thinking skills. I have never felt more "enlightened", as well as intrigued and awestruck by reality, by nature, space, time, the earth, human nature, on and on, as I have since discovering the skeptic sites.

    Surely you have discovered in your professional studies the placebo effect, and realized that sometimes we believe something is caused by A when it was actually caused by B. As a therapist, I would think you'd want objective information on what is helpful and what isn't. I'm not so arrogant as to assume that my personal theories and perceptions are an accurate indicator of how things really work.

    You said "our knowledge is limited to what happened that particular time, with that particular group of people or that Family Constellation practitioner. " I agree. We can't know how useful a therapy is, based on our own limited experience. We can't even know how useful it is based on our personal perceptions of how others found it to be. We may not hear from those with dissenting opinions, for one thing. Even people who report it as helpful can end up not making any significant emotional or mental or behavioral changes, yet isn't that what therapy is mostly about?

    I remember counseling (as a social worker, years ago) clients who reported feeling very good after seeing me, but they continued destructive behaviors. That isn't good enough for me. One day I ran into a woman who was an alcoholic who told me that I had saved her life, years back in counseling. How I wish I knew what it was that worked to give her the strength to stop drinking? This is precisely why I support proponents of various therapies to seek scientific studies to test their assumptions and hypotheses and their outcomes -- as objectively as possible, not based on trust but based on fact. But they must be willing to let go of those things that don't hold up to scrutiny.

    Meanwhile, I will continue to use my common sense and weed out any therapy that appears to be based on dubious and outrageous assumptions. I certainly don't have to (and can't possibly) personally experience tens of thousands of dubious if not dangerous practices in order to rightfully scrutinize, criticize, or reject them outright.

    With all that said, I am happy you found the experience to be powerful and helpful.

    Thank you for writing.




    Date: March 29, 2005
    Post from Karen to the Discussion Board

    After reading Lorie Anderson's comments about this form of "family therapy", I would like to share my personal experience. I have been living in Switzerland for over twenty years, and attended Familienaufstellungen nach Bert Hellinger (family constellation therapy, I now know) in Feldkirch, Austria near the Swiss border eight years ago for roughly half a year, as evening and weekend-long sessions. I also attended a lecture held by Bert Hellinger himself in Dornbirn, Austria. I was coerced into attendance by my ex-husband, and at first had a mild fascination with the whole concept and with the powerful emotions often unleashed by group members taking part in a constellation, or whose family was being constellated (I think I just made up a word).

    Over time, though, I felt uneasy. I felt that my integrity was being compromised, that I was being coerced not only by my ex-husband (who insisted that my inability to accept the mother of his illegitimate daughter as a legitimate member of our family was causing our marriage to fall apart), but also by the "therapist", who repeatedly tried to put words into my mouth that I then refused to say, on the grounds that they did not reflect my feelings.

    Looking back, I would say that this "therapy" did me, and our marriage, much more harm than good. I would certainly not recommend it for anyone in any kind of unstable emotional state, which should rule out a large segment of psychotherapy patients. Please note that both recognized psychology associations in Switzerland, and to my knowledge, the leading psychology association in Germany, have issued severe cautions about this form of "therapy".

    Colin Goldner, a clinical psychologist, has written several books that include criticism of the Bert Hellinger method (in German, am not aware of translations.) I wonder whether James Randi knows about Goldner's work? I found your site today while looking for information about this phenomenon for my U.S., i.e. English-speaking, family. My ex-husband is now trying to coerce my two teenage daughters to attend a weekend family constellation session next week; my younger daughter, who has just spent three weeks under observation at a hospital as a form of crisis intervention for her depression, does not wish to attend. Her psychiatrist also advised my ex against taking her there.

    I would appreciate (constructive) comments, particularly from those with similar experiences about what I personally consider to be an abusive form of therapy.

    Kind regards,
    Karen

    (Note: You can find my reply and respond to Karen on the Discussion Board for this page.)

    Date: April 2, 2005
    Karen wrote to me directly:

    Hello Lorie,

    After my personal experience with this phenomenon, i.e. succumbing to the lure of a potential quick fix based on a guru's mystique and esoteric principles that attribute many psychological and indeed even physical disorders on the disturbance of a purported "natural order" between men and women, family members, the weak and the strong, victims and purpetrators, I applaud your goal of promoting critical thought among those in the psychotherapy marketplace, whether as consumers or service providers.

    It is unsettling to note that the Hellinger method has become widely accepted in Europe, and is even applied by many "therapists" who lack academic as well as professional credentials from any widely recognized professional association. This means that some individuals seeking legitimate help may fall prey to well-intentioned but potentially harmful pseudo-professionals, or be manipulated by well-intentioned but misguided "qualified" professionals. Either way, the situation is alarming.

    I am surprised to learn about the lack of critical scrutiny in the US of the family constellation method used by Bert Hellinger - and sometimes wonder whether there is any scientific evidence to back up psychotherapy on the whole, or whether it is predominantly based on a philosophy/worldview, and whether there is any difference between faith in psychotherapy and religious faith.


    Kind regards
    Karen


    LORIE'S OTHER COMMENTARIES:

  • "The Vaccine War," produced by Frontline, PBS Broadcasting. [I was honored to be interviewed for this important documentary, as my community (Ashland, Oregon) has an alarmingly low vaccination rate: "It's an outbreak waiting to happen." My proverbial 15 minutes of fame consists of about 1 minute, in the first segment.]
  • James Twyman's Beloved Community homeless shelter in Baghdad
  • Indigo/Psychic Children
  • "EYES OPEN-WALLET SHUT," Letter of concern to Daily Tidings about Ilchi Lee, 12/8/04.
  • Applied/Specialized Kinesiology; Applied Neurogenics
  • Pre-diabetes
  • Exploding Toastmaster Toaster Oven
  • "Methods to Block Racism," Letter to Editor, Ashland Daily Tidings, November 14, 2006.
  • "A Cheerleader's UNbelievable Flu Vaccine Reaction" - Applying Critical Analysis column. December, 2009.
  • "Transmit the Facts to Radiate Calm," - Applying Critical Analysis column. September, 2010.
  • "My Response about the Gardasil Vaccine for HPV," Applying Critical Analysis column. November, 2010.

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