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Constellation Therapy 1/8: What is Constellation Therapy?

What are the basic principles and processes of family and ancestral constellation work? How does this flourishing modality help clients disentangle from the pain of generations past? Nicola Mackay is a clinical physicist turned constellation therapist and researcher, with an interest in bridging the gap between science and energy healing. In the first part of her new blog series, she discusses the centrality of belonging and the transgenerational cost of being unseen.

Constellation therapy is based on a principle that each and every soul has a place and belongs no matter who they are and what they have done. If someone is displaced or their pain is unseen then it has an impact, not only on that person, but also on the descendants that follow. 

I have written this series of blogs about how constellation therapy can be used to disentangle this invisible inheritance from our family and ancestors. I hope some of the systemic insights will be useful for your work with your own clients.

‘I belong’

The start and end point of any constellation is belonging. In order to belong there is an often unconscious acceptance of the beliefs and agreements of the family of origin that we are born into. All of the systems that we are a part of run on these agreements and beliefs, whether we are talking about a family system, a community, or our culture. Some of the agreements are known and visible, such as what is accepted behaviour within your family home or the laws and taxes you have to pay in the community or the culture you live in. Some of the agreements are less visible, such as what it is safe to ‘see’ or ‘know’ and who or what is worthy of grief and remembrance. 

Until 2016 my work was largely focused on individual and group healing. Since then I have been exploring the possibilities of constellation at a collective level through a research project. The focus is on traumatic entanglements as they relate to collective rather than individual memory.

I have observed similar agreements at the collective level that influence our belonging within our community and cultures. In both contexts it all comes down to acknowledging what or who has been unseen or silenced. 

There is a significant cost to being unseen, both for those who choose not to see and derive their belonging from the ‘not seeing’, and for those who are unseen and experience either a loss of place or a diminished place within the system – be it in the family or in the cultural context. When we are entangled with an unseen aspect we can move through our life influenced by this aspect and react to our present through this lens from the past.

The structure of a constellation

When we begin to delve into the world of constellation and entanglements, we are not doing so blindly. There is a particular order and structure that flows down from our ancestors to us. This structure becomes disordered and entangled when points of trauma and events are unacknowledged.

How does constellation therapy work?

There are several steps to a constellation session and it can be facilitated either individually with the client or within a group setting. 

 The process is similar for both scenarios:

•    Establishing the client’s intentional question.
•    Creation of the constellation map by placing representatives (symbols in the mind’s eye or people/objects in a physical map) for the various key people or aspects.
•    Standing within the map or experiencing it within the mind’s eye. The map is a spatial representation of the emotional dynamics between the client and the represented spaces.
•    The unfolding of the constellation map to include the missing and unseen parts relating to the intentional question.
•    Use of language narrative to disentangle and bear witness.

What happens within a created constellation field?

A client, Sophie wished to explore her relationship with her current partner as she didn’t feel seen by him. For Sophie the question asked was “What or who is standing between Sophie and Martin?”

In the map, Sophie found herself in the field of influence of her great-grandmother who had lost her fiancĂ© in WW1. Sophie was carrying that lost love and broken promise within her own relationship and was seeing her great-grandmother’s grief instead of her partner. In turn, her partner was looking at Sophie’s great-grandmother. 

Sophie had unconsciously been holding an agreement to replace the lost love before she was worthy of love and belonging. She had been walking through her relationship as if she were her grandmother, unconsciously displacing herself and becoming unseen in the process. Sophie was able to gently give place to the lost love and the grief, breaking that agreement, and then turn towards her own life and choices. 

In the next blog I will be exploring entanglement and disentanglement in more detail.


Nikki Mackay

Nikki Mackay (BSc, MSc) is a Family & Ancestral Constellation therapist and teacher. She previously worked as a Clinical Physicist within the NHS, specialising in Neurophysiological measurement and exploring the efficacy of energy healing on the autonomic nervous system. Nicola has been in private practice for 20 years. She has a busy therapy practice and teaching school based in Western Europe and the USA and offers training, workshops and individual family constellation therapy. Since 2016 she has been exploring the possibilities of constellations at a macro level, working with the International Relations Department of a University in Scotland looking at using constellations as a tool for understanding collective memory and trauma. Her fifth book, Your Invisible Inheritance,  was published by Rebel Magic Books in May 2020. She can be contacted at

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