Q & A

Aligning Energies

Family and Group Dynamics

For anyone involved in any kind of leadership or group facilitation, it is very important that you understand the basics.  Here is an easy-to-read guide that can be of great help to anyone in leadership, not just teachers.  Developing Effective Classroom Groups, A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Gene Stanford, 1977.  It includes helpful guidelines and specific exercises for establishing norms of group responsibility, responding to others, cooperation, decision-making through consensus, confronting problems and coping with conflict.

Some of the basics of group process are available for reading on the internet.  Here are some of the links I found that looked helpful:
     Basic Group Theory
     Brief Guide to Group Dynamics and Team Building pdf

Family Therapy has always been a strong interest of mine since childhood.   The all-time classic in the field, Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir, 1972, is still used as a college text for training therapists while also easy to read and understand.  Virginia Satir’s work should be required reading for anyone who ever had a family or wants one.  (I don’t think that’s over stated.)  Check out The New Peoplemaking, with six new chapters.  Here is some biographical information about the author.

For those with a long-term interest in working with groups, I strongly recommend getting deeper training and education to develop skill, understanding and insight.  This should include participating in some intensive, well-led small-group psychotherapy or personal growth work.  Find a situation where everyone looks deeply at their behavior, motivations and interactions and helps each other learn and grow. There is no substitute for constructive feedback and safe and supportive opportunities to explore new behaviors.  Even if you are not a psychotherapist, you, and those you work with, will benefit greatly if you take the time to learn about the deeper (and usually unconscious) processes operating in groups and in yourself.


Everyone brings their childhood family history into every group experience.  This shows up as patterns of attitude, expectation and behavior, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic.  What role did you play in your family of origin?  Were you the oldest or the youngest?  Were you listened to or ignored?  Did you view your parents as trustworthy, responsive and responsible, or the opposite?  What examples of leadership and authority did you have as a child within your family or elsewhere?

While there is no substitute for real life experience in a small group, it does help to have a theoretical framework.  Here is a classic text and reference for those aspiring to a professional level of understanding:  The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Fourth Edition, by Irvin D. Yalom, 1995.  Here is the author’s website.

Recently I completed two years of training and practice in Hellinger Constellation work, which has had a deep effect on my ways of thinking about and working with family and group processes.  Here are some web pages that provide good overviews of the classic Hellinger constellation approach:
   Family Constellations, Basic Principles
   Frequently Asked Questions about Constellations

Bert Hellinger’s books are extremely valuable reading for anyone interested in fresh insights into the influence of families across time and space.  His book, Love's Hidden Symmetry, provides important discoveries about the connection between past events in families and current patterns and predispositions involving psychological, physical and financial wellbeing.  Here are links to Bert Hellinger’s website and his publisher’s.

The Art and Practice of Family Constellations, by Bertold Ulsamer, 2003, provides a very clear explanation of the classic Hellinger approach to family constellations.

Bert Hellinger’s more recent book, No Waves Without the Ocean, Experiences and Thoughts, 2006, provides a comprehensive collection of Hellinger’s brilliant observations and insights on a wide range of subjects. Hellinger is an astute observer of energy, interaction and resolution within the family soul. Bert Hellinger can push our boundaries of understanding on such topics as the phenomenological path of awareness, peace for perpetrators and victims, the orders of love, and the living and the dead. Hellinger’s understandings of patterns of cause and effect at the level of the family soul are solidly grounded in direct experience and observation. His conclusions seem both radical and compelling.

If you have an opportunity to experience Hellinger constellation work, please do. The experience of serving as a representative in another person’s family constellation is really quite amazing. In taking on the energy of the person that you represent in a constellation, you are able to feel into their experience in relationship to others in the family. There is an opportunity for participating in a healing process that can affect multiple generations over time and space. It is a deeply moving process. The insights and changes available by working on your own family constellations can be quite profound. In the Boston area, Hellinger constellation work is available through the excellent workshop and training programs offered by Jamy and Peter Faust. Their website provides a great deal of useful information on Hellinger work, including links to facilitators in other areas.

Conflict Resolution

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