NOTE: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.).© 1964. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Family constellation is the term coined by Adler and elaborated by Dreikurs to represent the operation of the family system, including parents, siblings, and others in the family of origin, together with any others living with them as members of the person's childhood household. It pictures the family by analogy to a constellation in astronomy, a group of bodies in motion, each of which has its place in relation to the places of the others. In clarifying the origins of a lifestyle, this image is intended to help clients consider how they made, took, or found places for themselves from the beginning, and so to understand their rehearsals of unique patterns of movement for finding and holding their places in their subsequent participation in circles of the wider social world. [See Psychological Birth Order Position/Birth Order Vantage.]
A clear formulation of a person's life style can be obtained through investigation of his family constellation, which is a sociogram of the group at home during his formative years. This investigation reveals his field of early experiences, the circumstances under which he developed his personal perspectives and biases, his concepts and convictions about himself and others, his fundamental attitudes, and his own approaches to life, which are the basis for his character, his personality (Dreikurs, 1973, p. 87).
The psychoclarity process rests upon a thorough appreciation of the context in which the inevitable errors made by a child can be understood as having made a certain kind of sense. . . . The life-style assessment procedure… calls for a thorough inquiry into the particularities of the situation in which this one person learned to rehearse and to make do with a particular pattern of errors (Powers & Griffith, 1987, pp. 20-21).
We systematically record a thorough description of the members of the person's family of origin, their relationships, and their circumstances. This gives us a sense of the social dynamics and organization (the "family constellation") in which the person encountered the tasks of life (Powers & Griffith, 1987, p. 67).
[A boy]. . .was for five years the only child of parents who had seen better days . . . His great deterioration dates from the time his sister was born and began to play a part in the family constellation (Adler, 1930, pp. 26-27).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 37).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1930). The education of children. (E. Jensen & F. Jensen, Trans.). New York: Greenberg.
Dreikurs, R. (1973, Rev. ed.). Psychodynamics, psychotherapy and counseling: Collected papers of Rudolf Dreikurs, M. D. Chicago: Alfred Adler Institute.
Powers, R. L., & Griffith, J. (1987). Understanding life-style: The psycho-clarity process. Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates.