Family Constellations brings together Western psychotherapy and African ancestral influences in the healing work of Helen Michaletos, traditional healer and family constellations therapist
In the late 1990s, Helen Michaletos met the prominent traditional healer, Colin Campbell in Cape Town, and in 2003, she was initiated by Colin and his brother, Niall, as a Malombo African doctor in the Venda tradition.
This marked a radical departure for Michaletos, a South African with Greek, Dutch and French ancestry, who had been baptised as an infant in the Greek Orthodox Church and was brought up as a Christian.
Her work brought her into contact with Family Constellations work and after training with Tanja Meyburgh, who founded Family Constellations Africa; she began to incorporate Family Constellations work into her practice.
You don’t truly love someone until you love their fate, too
Family Constellations was developed Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist, who was influenced by African cultural practices during his work as a Catholic missionary in Kwa Zulu Natal, particularly the trans-generational influence of ancestors. After returning to Germany, Hellinger refined his philosophy, which is based on the idea that “Orders of Love,” that dictate intergenerational relationships, for better or for worse, even after family members have passed on.
Family constellations uncovers the hidden dynamics in the family system in order to heal the system as a whole.
The ‘inner parts’ work of Karin Huyssen, a Family Constellation Therapist and psychologist, also guides Michaletos’s work. While family constellations work focuses on intergenerational forces, ‘inner parts work’ focuses more on the interaction between aspects of an individual’s psyche.
Michaletos compares her work with clients to a tapestry. “Somewhere in the tapestry there is a knot and using family constellations, you almost follow the thread so that you can loosen a knot in the family system and allow it to unravel so that there can be more flow.“
Orders or love: following the thread
“The tapestry analogy is very strong for me,” Michaletos says. “As I understand it, we are the sum total of all of our ancestors…Our ancestors are in our DNA and they influence our behaviour. In the African healing context, your ancestors are not 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 clients wants to balance or shift for themselves. The process gives insight and that in itself brings relief and the possibility of a solution, Michaletos says.
Family constellations opens what Hellinger refers to as “an access to layers of the soul, many of which were previously hidden in our culture.” Through this experience,solutions can emerge for individuals and their family and kin, which enable families to re-unite and forgive one another and for old wrongs to be righted. “What is attributed to good helping spirts in shamansim can be described here as being brought about by the common soul,” Hellinger said.
Dolls are used to plot our family dynamics
Dolls are used to plot out family dynamics or even to explore the relationship between emotions and tensions within an individual client: the relationship between anger, fear, and shame, for example.
The ‘just in case’ phenomenon
Michaletos also coaches clients to let go of clutter. “Moving objects around is pretty much like moving your psyche around,” she says. Living in very cluttered surroundings can create problems in relationships and quality of life.
The “just in case” phenomenon, is often found in cases where ancestors lived in a war situation, such as during the First or Second World Wars, Michaletos explains. In a context of enormous losses, people will hold onto things “just in case”. This tendency can be passed from one generation to the next, Michaletos explains.
“I love working with spaces,” she says. “The results are profound; relief on a grand scale.”
A version of this article first appeared in Sunday Times Lifestyle