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Case Study - Contrasting Psychodrama & Systemic Constellation Work

Case Study - Contrasting Psychodrama & Systemic Constellation Work

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Published by Karen Carnabucci
This article builds on our earlier overview of the Family Systems Constellations Approach of Hellinger and others and notes further similarities and differences between it and psychodrama, offering a case example as illustration. We contrast the two most widely used experiential methods, psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work, by working with one client on the same issue in each of the modalities, conducted two hours apart. Using psychodrama first, Karen works with the client’s conscious perception of her problem with her mother, “working from the periphery to the center,” expressing real feelings for the first time, reaching breakthroughs in understanding, and ending in role-training, using her new perceptions. In the Systemic Constellation Work, Ron skips past the periphery, probing the unconscious workings of her “soul,” tapping into the roots of the issue she had just worked through in psychodrama, allowing the family soul of Constellation work to move the action on its own, spontaneously, between herself and her mother, healing not only her individual pain, but the family pain that generated the issue in the first place. Seemingly, it brings an even deeper reconciliation.
This article builds on our earlier overview of the Family Systems Constellations Approach of Hellinger and others and notes further similarities and differences between it and psychodrama, offering a case example as illustration. We contrast the two most widely used experiential methods, psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work, by working with one client on the same issue in each of the modalities, conducted two hours apart. Using psychodrama first, Karen works with the client’s conscious perception of her problem with her mother, “working from the periphery to the center,” expressing real feelings for the first time, reaching breakthroughs in understanding, and ending in role-training, using her new perceptions. In the Systemic Constellation Work, Ron skips past the periphery, probing the unconscious workings of her “soul,” tapping into the roots of the issue she had just worked through in psychodrama, allowing the family soul of Constellation work to move the action on its own, spontaneously, between herself and her mother, healing not only her individual pain, but the family pain that generated the issue in the first place. Seemingly, it brings an even deeper reconciliation.

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Published by: Karen Carnabucci on Jun 10, 2009
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Case study – Family Constellation
CONTRASTING THE MOST WIDELY USED EXPERIENTIALMETHODS: PSYCHODRAMA AND CONSTELLATION WORK By Ronald Anderson and Karen CarnabucciThis article builds on our earlier overview of the Family Systems ConstellationsApproach of Hellinger and others and notes further similarities and differencesbetween it and psychodrama, offering a case example as illustration. We contrast thetwo most widely used experiential methods, psychodrama and Systemic ConstellationWork, by working with one client on the same issue in each of the modalities, conductedtwo hours apart. Using psychodrama first, Karen works with the client’s consciousperception of her problem with her mother, “working from the periphery to the center,”expressing real feelings for the first time, reaching breakthroughs in understanding,and ending in role-training, using her new perceptions. In the Systemic ConstellationWork, Ron skips past the periphery, probing the unconscious workings of her “soul,”tapping into the roots of the issue she had just worked through in psychodrama,allowing the family soul of Constellation work to move the action on its own,spontaneously, between herself and her mother, healing not only her individual pain,but the family pain that generated the issue in the first place. Seemingly, it brings aneven deeper reconciliation.The Psychodrama
Our core group of trainees in our Midwest Training Series had been exposed to the basictenets of classic psychodrama and Systemic Family Constellation Work for five months,having multiple opportunities to work as protagonists, auxiliaries, representatives andaudience members prior to this session. We proposed a module to explore one person’sissue initially in psychodrama, then later the same day, in Systemic Constellation Work,to demonstrate the differences and similarities of each modality.A warm-up was developed to include elements from both methodologies. Becauseancestors are so important in Constellation work – as well as in the family of originthemes that are commonly addressed in psychodrama – we began with general discussionabout group members’ ancestors, and the influences of their legacies prior to eachmember’s own lifetime.Karen, as director, asked the trainees to mill about the stage so that bodily experiencecould expand and amplify their cognitive and verbal recollections. As they walked, theywere instructed to choose an ancestor, known or unknown, and role reverse with them (a psychodrama technique), then find a place in the stage where this ancestor was drawn tointuitively (a Constellation technique). When every person had taken the role of anancestor and found his or her place on stage, the director interviewed each one.Sandra, who would be chosen subsequently as protagonist, was one of the first tointroduce herself, as Claude, her maternal grandfather. After all group members hadspoken in role reversal, they were once again asked to mill, returning to their own roles.1
 
Case study – Family ConstellationGroup members who wanted to be protagonist for the session were then asked to comeinto the center of the circle to announce their desire to work.Only two, Sandra and Marianne, stepped forward. The training group chose Sandra,likely because she had been the most serious and quiet member of the group during the past four months, and the group was eager to learn more about her, likely more than being attracted by the story told by her in her role as her grandfather.After group members returned to their seats, Sandra, an addictions counselor in ahospital-based treatment program, participated in a “walk and talk” warm-up, tellingdirector Karen about a current issue that concerned her: the
 good 
and the
bad 
inside her she had “obtained” somehow from her mother. Sandra had grown up as a “preacher’skid” in a small Midwestern community. And as the minister’s third daughter, Sandraremembered being admonished severely by her mother to always act on her best behavior. Sandra acknowledged her mother has since mellowed, but during Sandra’sformative years, the rule-bound mother heavily influenced her perspective and behavior.She acknowledged that she has been feeling “bothered” by her mother’s past actions and parental directives.Sandra picked Kathy to play her mother. Role-reversing with Kathy as her mother,Sandra self-presented a stiff woman, giving constant directives to her third daughter.Back in the auxiliary role, Kathy repeated the endless list of “shoulds.” The director,Karen, helped tease out the most influential messages given by Sandra’s mother from theearly years:“Don’t get out of line!”“Be quiet.”“Act like a lady!”“Don’t show any spirit!”With tears forming in her eyes, Sandra, in her adult role, identified the final message,“Don’t act overbearing!
” 
Sandra labeled this statement as the strongest and mostshaming message, which she then expanded upon in soliloquy, attributing it to havinginhibited any sense of spontaneity, womanly sexuality or sense of selfhood in her adultyears.Other auxiliaries were chosen to stand in a single line behind the mother, each oneinstructed to represent one of the mother-messages. Sandra, stepping into the child role,again connected to tears, identifying both pain and anger, allowing herself to experienceeach of the old messages.Stepping back into her adult role, Sandra spoke to her mother, telling her how much her apparent disapproval had inhibited her development as a young person and was nowcontinuing to inhibit her social and work roles as an adult. “I hold myself back,” shesaid, “I go to professional events, and I’m quiet. I don’t speak up. I’m afraid to talk to people unless I know them really well!”2
 
Case study – Family ConstellationSandra recalled how she was often compared to her older sister Beth, who was quiet andobedient. “I’m
not 
Beth!” she asserted firmly. “I’m nothing like her. I’m
 spirited 
! Iwant to try new things, have new experiences! Yes, I drank, but I never got into trouble.I was
always
responsible!”Karen directed the auxiliary playing mother to move to the back of the line of messages,as the drama then explored her relationship to each message.Eve spoke the first message. “You need to be more quiet! You’re way too noisy!” Shekept it up, intensifying the tone, and expanding on the idea, following the director’s callfor her to do so.Another group member was asked to double the protagonist as a supportive role, and she began saying, “Noooo.” First the double spoke lightly, then more strongly, “NO!”Sandra stood stiffly, with her hands in her pockets, was encouraged by the director toremove her hands, and to allow herself more freedom to express herself, not only verbally but also physically by swinging her arms gently to loosen her body stance. Sandra’sdouble now stepped closer to the mother, saying “No!” again. Sandra was invited toexperiment to stomping her feet, her arms swinging as she continued, now echoing her double, “No,” first softly, then with more firmness. Both Sandra and her double nowresonated with a cadence of “No! No! NO! NO!”With her newfound helper, Sandra continued to speak more forcibly, and easily, to eachof the next four auxiliary mother-messages, reclaiming her own self, dispatching eachmessage carrier to a different part of the room. However, with the final message, the oneshe defined most shaming, she began to struggle again.“You don’t understand me,” Sandra pleaded. “I was a good kid. I was responsible. I waslearning, and I was having fun. I even rode a motorcycle!”The auxiliary-mother-message then responded, “How dare you get out of line and bedisobedient!” It was a perfect improvised expansion. “Do you have any idea what it waslike for me to be a teenager?” Richard said, in the mother’s voice.Sandra was quickly role reversed into her mother. “What about being a teenager?” theauxiliary asked in Sandra’s role.“It wasn’t easy,” Sandra found herself saying as her mother. “My father drank. Everyonelooked at our family, wagging their tongues. I decided when I had my own family,
 I wouldn’t let us be embarrassed 
!” It was as though Sandra was suddenly making sense of why it had been that way. It had less to do with her, and more to do with her mother, andhow she was brought up, always focusing on what others might think, even aboutordinary behaviors. With this realization, Sandra could play her own role even moreforcibly.3

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