Grief, Loss, Death & Dying

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Grieving for ChildrenReview - Grieving for Children
Solutions for Four Families who have Lost a Child
by Bert Hellinger
Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, 1997
Review by Prem Dana Takada, BBSC (Hons) MA Psych.
Mar 4th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 10)

Bert Hellinger is one of Europe's most innovative and provocative systemic therapists. Former priest and missionary he brings a lifetime of experience and wisdom to his therapeutic work. Acknowledging what is, he non-judgmentally describes what he sees, transforming psychotherapy into the care of souls. This video is part of the documentation of a demonstration workshop held near London in January 1997. The participants are mental health professionals, their clients and interested layperson and similarly this video should appeal to anyone interested in family systems. Neuhauser and a small professional camera team, sensitively documents the steps participants take in their search for resolution. Hunter Beaumont provides an introduction as well as a brief orientation to each "constellation" or family set up.

With the constellation structure that Hellinger employs he instructs the participant to select from the audience people who will be the representatives of his/her family. In this video the four family structures or "constellations" show what happens when a family cannot grieve the loss of the child and the "movements" within the soul of the family which ere needed to restore balance. Clearly demonstrated to even an untrained eye are how the unseen forces and the choices that were made long ago can strongly effect the current family.

Many principles are demonstrated such as, if there is no mourning then the parents separate, due to a silent accusation/blame. The solution given by Hellinger to the parents for this is the healing phrase "It is our child, we loved it and loose it together and we let it go with love'. If a stillborn child is just forgotten/not named the next child takes it place and then the dead child is excluded once more. Following the basic law that" nobody can be excluded", the whole system is in uproar. If the missing person is included again, for example by a brother recognizing his dead younger brother and his place in the sibling system, then peace is restored. Tracking the movements that lead to resolution and unblock love, Hellinger guides a woman to take the representatives of two aborted children by the hand. Another sibling is guided to say to his aborted brother whose responsibility for his death he has been carrying since a small child, "I'll show you all the beautiful things in life for a while and then I will let you have your peace". Another principle which is demonstrated is that children need to leave their parents with whatever happened, sometimes turning their backs on them (in the constellation, literally). They then can acknowledge that they are just the children and look forward into the future and support each other. As this is largely a phenomenological approach Hellinger relies on the feedback from the family representatives to indicate when a resolution has been reached. In the last case the representatives of the children felt "strong, supported, good".

The approach is not a morality based one though Hellinger notes that nothing is without consequences. It is not necessarily about happy endings but about trusting that when what has been kept hidden from a family is revealed, love will flow in the right direction. Hellinger offers the living a contemporary ritual for honoring the dead which also allows the living to embrace their lives fully. His approach is at once impressively simple, relying on simple statements from the representatives such as "that feels better' while at the same time being inherently challenging of many common patterns of families and society that do not honor the orders of love, the fact everyone among us has his or her appropriate place. I consider Hellinger to be one of the most ingenious and perhaps misunderstood workers in the therapy world. If this is the first Hellinger tape you are considering, perhaps it is more difficult than most and another in the series could be chosen to begin to orient yourself to his approach. This tape focuses primarily on still births and abortions, not specifically an older child whom has been lost. Somewhat different principles may apply in the latter situation, though the overall principals are very helpful to those working in this field of therapy. I would also as a therapist consider that clients might view the tape with support.

Prem Dana Takada, M.A.Psych. originally trained as a Clinical Psychologist in Melbourne, Australia, where she is also a registered Family Therapist. After leaving Australia, Prem Dana worked as a Principal Clinical Psychologist in West London, continuing to work with individuals, couples, families, and as a group therapist and further training as an Ericksonian Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist in Oxford. She has travelled widely having also lived and worked in India, and has been in Japan for the last five years where runs the Psychotherapy and Healing Practice and is current President of International Mental Health Providers Japan (IMHPJ) -a professional organization established for therapists who service the international community in Japan.


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