- What is an Identity-orientated Psychotrauma Therapy constellation session?
- What is trauma?
- Types of trauma
- What will I gain from doing a constellation?
- What happens in a session?
- Phenomenological approach
- How does it work?
- How often do I need to come?
What is an IoPT constellation session?
Identity-orientated Psychotrauma Therapy (IoPT), formerly called “Trauma Constellations” has been developed by Dr. Franz Ruppert and has its roots in Family Constellations which is a therapeutic method originally developed by Bert Hellinger that draws on elements of family systems therapy, psychodrama and existential phenomenology. The word constellation refers to “an arrangement of parts or elements” and within the method members within a group or markers in an individual session, are arranged and used to represent parts of the self and/or other elements.
An IoPT constellation session uses “The intention Method” and is an experiential process whereby the relationships and conflicts between the healthy, traumatised and survival parts of oneself are revealed. By gaining direct access to these parts and also to what is normally, often the unconscious split off traumatised parts of yourself, you then have the opportunity to re-connect with and integrate these parts enabling you to become more of who you truly are.
What is trauma?
When in danger or under stress, our body will naturally go into the flight or fight response as a way to cope with and survive the situation. If the situation is overwhelming however and we are rendered helpless, where the flight or fight response is no longer possible, then the body will freeze instead which also leads to psychological fragmentation or ‘splitting’. One of the main reasons why the psyche fragments is to help us survive the experience by splitting off and keeping the unbearable feelings associated with the trauma, such as complete and utter helplessness, terror, panic, anxiety, rage, grief, and shock, away from conscious awareness. Instead we dissociate as a way in which to defend against and not feel the trauma feelings. This part, whose only function is to shield off and repress these feelings of trauma is called the “survival self”.
Feelings and memories of the trauma lay dormant in the unconscious and get re-triggered in certain situations which can lead to re-traumatisation. Therefore, until we can face and integrate the trauma directly we will be under its unconscious influence and be negatively impacted by it which shows up in our life as relationship difficulties, illness, depression, anxiety, further traumas and so on.
Over time the person’s survival strategies have to work harder and harder in order to manage and maintain the split in order to keep the unprocessed and unresolved trauma from breaking through into conscious awareness. So although the survival strategies were life-saving at the time, long-term they become limiting, debilitating and can actually end up destroying us as with the survival strategy of severe alcoholism for example, which serves as a kind of self-induced dissociation. The ultimate strategy used to avoid the feelings of trauma being suicide.
The good news however is that along with the unconscious traumatised part and the survival part that will go to any lengths to keep the trauma at bay, we also have a ‘healthy self’ which remains whole and untainted by the experiences and is constantly attempting to integrate the trauma experiences. Being in direct conflict with the survival self however, the healthy self can be hijacked and masked by this part making it difficult to maintain a connection with it. Constellations can therefore be a valuable tool in helping us to strengthen and sustain our connection with the healthy self.
Types of trauma
Since our identity and the way we relate to other people is shaped by our very first connection with life- our mother, IoPT focuses on the trauma(s) we all experience, to varying degrees, very early in life from conception into infancy.
- Existential trauma which threatens our physical being.
- Trauma of Love: The threat of annihilation as a result of being unloved in early infancy. From conception onwards into infancy our very survival depends on our mother. Therefore, if we are unable to establish a safe, holding and loving connection with her then this can feel life threatening for the growing infant and elicit a trauma response, resulting in psychological splitting.
- Trauma of Identity: Having to adapt and become someone else (survival/false self) as we are not loved or accepted as we are. If we have experienced a trauma of love, which can feel life threatening, then in order to survive this devastating situation and avoid this threat of non-being, we quickly learn adaptive survival mechanisms that will bring us the love and acceptance that will ensure our survival. This gives rise to the survival self/parts or what Winnicott calls the “False Self”. Instead of being able to express ourselves freely and enjoy the blossoming of our unique self, we are instead forced to give up our healthy autonomous self and become what our parents want or needs us to be in order to sustain some connection with them.
- Bonding systems trauma where traumas within the family system such as fathers sexually abusing their daughters for example, remain unprocessed and repressed resulting in ramifications for future generations whom can feel the effects.
What will I gain from doing a Constellation?
The Intention method enables you to get in touch with the unconscious parts of yourself and helps to resolve trauma. It does this by providing a;
- way in which to clearly see and experience different parts of the self through the external representation of them
- deeper awareness of your own types of survival strategies
- strengthening of the healthy self
- way in which to safely get in touch with the trauma
- better connection between the different parts of the self thus enabling repressed and split off traumatized parts to be integrated
- sense of inner peace as internal conflicts are gradually resolved
- method in which inner trust can be developed
What happens in a session?
The intention There is always a reason for why we go into therapy. In the session you will therefore firstly come up with an “intention”, which is the outcome you want to achieve in relation to your current issue. It is advised to limit this to 9 words or less.
Group sessions: In a group workshop, once you have formulated your intention, you will then choose people from the group to represent each word from this intention who are in effect representing some of the different parts of you. The representatives will then relay their experience in relation to each other and your intention. This process will reveal information and give you insights and opportunities to re-connect with and integrate previously repressed and split off parts of yourself. The constellation itself is an external representation of what is happening internally on the intrapsychic level. It therefore gives us a deep insight into the different parts of the psyche that would usually be inaccessible.
Individual sessions: In an individual session I play a dual role in that I will act as the facilitator but I will also step in and represent your intention and feed back to you my experience in relation to it. If it is appropriate, we may also use floor markers to represent additional parts, people or words from your intention.
It is very difficult to try and describe what it is like to be in a constellation with words as it is only though direct experience of being in one that the profound nature of this way of working can be grasped. This is mainly because the phenomenon goes beyond the rational thinking brain. For example, it would be understandable to presume that the representatives are playing the role based on what they may feel is expected of them but this is never the case. The representatives will disclose with surprising accuracy the inner most feelings and experiences of the client having perhaps only met them that day. This then begs the question- how do constellations work?
How does it work? The exact way in which the constellation method works is not yet known. Once the intention has been set up, participants’ begin to embody the person or part they are representing resulting in lived experiences and unconscious information suddenly becoming accessible. It is as if the information is being unconsciously transmitted through a field of resonance allowing the knowledge to be shared between the client and representatives. As this information begins to emerge, it provides the opportunity for these unconscious, split off parts to be re-integrated.
Current and emerging theories point to some possible explanations. Rupert Sheldrakes’ ‘Morphic resonance theory’ for example, posits that memory is held within the collective (similar to Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious) where collective memories can be shared across individuals through “telepathy-type interconnections…”. Although Rupert Sheldrake has attracted scepticism from the scientific world there is currently no evidence to disprove his theories.
Similarly, Neuroscience’s ‘Limbic resonance theory’ purports that the capacity for mammals to be attuned to and share each other’s deep emotional inner states arises from the more primitive limbic system of the brain and gives rise to our ability for empathy and non-verbal connection.
There is also growing evidence demonstrating how brain development of the child is influenced by the relationship and bonding they have with their parents and how attachment trauma can have adverse effect on the child later on in life such as the inability to self soothe.
In a similar vein, quantum physics is now highlighting that at a fundamental level reality is not made of discrete and separate parts (particles), but as one interconnected whole now termed the ‘Holographic Universe’, suggesting that what one person feels can be felt by another due to our interconnectedness.
Also the science of epigenetics now shows how our DNA is influenced by our experiences, the environment and our thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions and that severe traumatic experiences do alter DNA expression, which may explain how unresolved trauma can be transmitted across generations.
How often do I need to come?
Unlike conventional Counselling where most people attend weekly appointments, with constellations you decide on how frequently you would like to come. This is partly because you may need time to integrate the insights and experiences that you have gained during a session to embed into your life. The timescale required for that to happen is unique for every individual and since you are the expert on you, I leave it up to you to gauge when it feels right to book another appointment.