Navigating Family Systems in Hypnoanalysis
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners.
by Peter Solymos (Budapest, Hungary)
As I read the 2016 April article from Aksel Aas Sogstad on the concept of Multi-Level Regressions, I found myself wanting to open a conversation, as he described something that I find to be essential in many ways for my counseling work and that I have actively used for years by now on a regular basis. It all came to me through my own therapeutic process, that lead to such fundamental findings about family systems that this mindset became a key cornerstone of my own therapeutic style as it is at present.
It all started several years ago while I was in the middle of dealing with my own anxiety episodes that I came across Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation system. It did not tell me much at first, but I gave it a try based on a recommendation – it gave me then two of the greatest resolutions in my own therapeutic process, so I made up my mind to go deeper and learn it. Subsequently I spent years taking part in these group therapy sessions, and have integrated many of its aspects into my own counseling practice as their effectiveness proved to be on par with the hypnotherapy tools I had in use until then.
The core idea of the system is that descendants tend to inherit significant bad fates and subconscious self-sabotaging behaviour of their ancestors as long as these conflicts are not resolved within the family tree. It gives lots of tools and examples how to deal with such conflicts, and how to research root causes of symptoms in the family tree if they cannot be found within the lifetime of the client through normal regression or other conventional one-on-one therapy. Going into much detail would be going beyond the scope of this article, but let me give you two short examples how I use it in hypnotherapy:
1. A client looked me up with haunting feelings and imaginations that she was getting more and more often about stabbing her husband with a knife. By the time she got to me she already had strong fears that one day she would actually live it out in real life. We found no initiation point of this process in trance while examining the feeling and the relationship, so we switched to examining family members while she was in trance. We ended up in a memory of her being in the role of her great-grandmother stabbing a soldier to death in WW2 in defense against her being raped. Exploring this conflict solved the case for her; her imaginations have stopped completely after the session. She did not have any conscious recollection of such a story in the family, but afterwards she found for herself a greater understanding of why the elders used to steer away from war stories.
2. Another client came with unexplainable hatred toward her own daughter that did not seem to have any reasonable root cause in her own lifetime with regular hypnoanalysis. Switching to examining family members while in trance, she identified this as an unresolved family memory of her grandmother and her mother that she kept repeating subconsciously. Settling the conflict solved her own problem, and the disturbing feelings have since disappeared.
These are but short examples to get a taste of a somewhat broader explanation on the logic and application possibilities:
Families are bound together by an invisible fabric that could probably be termed most simply as “Family Subconscious.” This fabric is possible to navigate in hypnotic sessions by placing the client in the relevant gestalt roles and looking for feelings and memories of the examined family member. Regressing to significant episodes while remaining in the role is usually possible too, but mapping the feelings of the role toward other family members works nearly all of the time. Though this would seem absolute “hokus-pokus” for a significant portion of the population in the waking state, clients usually find it quite natural while being in trance, given that the therapist works with it naturally too. Clients sometimes give me a queer look after emerging, wondering if what they had just experienced was true – I explain to them that the existence of a subconscious family fabric is in fact common knowledge, everyone knows the stories of twins having clear notions about their pairs from a distance, or some mothers having their natural information flow about their children while away. I tell them this fabric is easier to experience while in hypnosis, so it is possible to receive information from other members of the family, but I leave the decision up to them. It is usually contraindicated to explain anything about this method in advance, as people would generally doubt their own abilities to report on the emotional states of other family members in the waking state, and then would enter hypnosis with this doubt in the back of their heads inhibiting their own progress.
As for the workings of a “Family System,” it is in many aspects similar to the core mechanisms of the individual psyche. It has its own natural coping function, but keeps jumping back to unresolved episodes through the “voluntary” repetition by descendants through several generations. Hellinger found that this repetition often happens through a descendant that can have no real life recollection of the original episode or the person itself who went through it as they did not live simultaneously in time. If the injury of the family structure is too severe, it can lead to self-destructive impulses in later generations that can prove to be very difficult to relieve by a therapy that only focuses on the client’s lifetime without examining the family history. Some of these severe family system injuries are typically early death cases, murders, suicides, unspeakable family secrets, ejection of family members from the clan, or ejection of the complete family from the root ethnicity. These often make their long standing marks on the mental health functions of individual family members, even if they are multiple generations lower in the system than the original members who were directly involved in the stress situation.
Bert Hellinger stumbled upon the fundamentals of these structures while working as a missionary in South Africa, being on a continent where the respect of the elders and the good memory of the ancestors is very much treasured, much more than in the current European belief systems. In tribal areas keeping the connection to the deceased elders is often part of the natural mental health instinct, which he found to be a half-forgotten elementary function in today’s Western culture that most families would benefit from if it would be re-examined. I have used these concepts successfully to mend situations in my own family and to uncover and defuse the stories of some of my own disturbing feelings, giving me long standing stable effects, which then made me to study and later combine this knowledge with my hypnotherapy skills to be able to help clients the most versatile ways possible.
Anny Slegten, Director of the Hypnotism Training Institute of Alberta grew into these concepts naturally as she grew up in Belgian Congo back in the colonial times, so when we had our conversations on these issues she knew immediately what I was talking about. On her visit to Europe I took her to a Hellinger’s session in Budapest to taste the experience, which resulted in an invitation to a weekend’s guest lecture in Alberta to teach hypnotherapists about the implications of Hellinger’s Family Constellation System and its application to hypnotherapy. I’m looking forward to continuing on this path and to pass on what I have found to be effective by merging the two methods and to raise consciousness among hypnotherapists to consider the family background more deeply while working with clients. This is an aspect that is usually not dealt with in the typical hypnotherapy training system, while it contributes greatly to the understanding how life events can interact between living and/or deceased members of a clan through the unseen subconscious system of ties that binds the broader family together. The force of our ancestors on our life experiences is greater than it is taken for, and this is an aspect where I would find it for important to include these effects in the training systems for future hypnotherapists to raise awareness and to prepare toolsets for the effective and professional handling of such cases.
Peter Solymos is an engineering manager and private hypnotherapist living and working in Budapest, Hungary. He holds a quality manager position at an automotive manufacturing company while offering private sessions for individuals. He speaks Hungarian, English, German, a bit of French, and has a 1.5 year old son, Joel.