In at the deep end

Late last year I did four group sessions using systemic constellations in the field of addictions. The setting was a drug and alcohol services organisation. It has been a great experience.

The group of people I worked with were not abstinent but are looking at reducing or stopping their use of substances. The group is also an open group, which means that people stream in and out and so each week different people may be attending. It turned out that each group was different and no one was there for all of them.

In structuring the sessions I had to take this into account. Although I planned the sessions sequentially, it was also possible to do each on its own.

The focus I chose for the sessions was to look at forming the group, creating a container, and support for each member. This supports the cohesion and safety of the group so that people can use it as a resource.

For me it was interesting to see what made it difficult for someone to join in with the exercises. They look quite simple but stirred up a lot. For some this could just be a word I used in the exercise which would cause a lot of resistance or upset, or feelings of ridicule: ‘I am not going to do that, it makes me look stupid’.

I am impressed though that they all did join in each time, despite difficult feelings and resistance coming up. When doing the exercises this would change and they would notice different things. Some felt more connected to the group. Most said they felt they got to know the others better and would look at them differently. They could more easily talk to those they had not had much contact with before. Some could relate the exercises to their personal lives. For others it expanded their view.

Most also liked the more creative focus of the exercises, rather than ‘just sitting and talking about their problems’. Although I did get asked ‘What does this have to do with our addiction?’

It was a great way of deepening my understanding of family constellation work. I realise I have become used to seeing and doing deep personal work in a group setting, often with people I don’t know at all. In this setting I could not do this of course so I adapted the exercises. Even so they brought up a lot for all of them which gave very rich sharing in the group.

I had to let go of my expectations of how it should go and what people should get out of it. After the first two sessions I would say to my peers: it is constellation work, but not as we know it, meaning not working as deep. But in sharing what had come up for people in the group my peers would always say: ‘But that is a lot, that is huge!’ And I realised that was.

I recognised that even though the exercises looked simple it always goes deep. I remember this from when I did the training, there was no such thing as ‘just a little session’.

I have loved working in this way with this group of people and can see the huge potential constellation work can have in this area.