2. Ursula Franke-Bryson

An Interview about working in South Africa with Dr Ursula Franke-Bryson

by Thomas Bryson

When did you first get involved with Family Constellations?

My first  contact with FC was in the late eighties or early nineties through a colleague who had been in Bert´s therapeutic groups for a long time. This experience was deepened through the work of Matthias Varga von Kibéd and Insa Sparrer, who together developed the theory and practice of abstract and system constellation to explore any kind of structure, as in organizations, theater scripts, decision taking, elements in a context and much more.

I started doing theoretical and practical research for my doctorate by exploring the dynamics, interventions and methods in individual setting and in groups. That was all we had to understand theory. Only in 1993 was Bert´s first book published! Many of us participated in all of Bert´s workshops and started exploring systemic dynamics in constellations in our practices. I started having weekly exchange groups with colleagues, then weekend groups and was involved in the organization of some of Bert’s first large workshops where there were always around 500 people attending. After the first of these workshops, constellations took off and spread across Germany and Europe like a bushfire.

I applied constellations in the individual setting at that time while working in a psychiatric clinic and in my individual practice. This formed the basis of my second book, “In My Mind’s Eye” which was published first in 2002.

What first brought you to South Africa?

After a workshop in 2002 in Swakopmund, Namibia, I came to SA on the invitation of Beulah Levinson to do a Family Constellation workshop in Cape Town. She had gathered a  group of well-trained psychotherapists as well as others who had come from neighboring professions like social and body workers. FC was fairly new in South Africa then and this was one of the very first workshops there. There I met with Robyn Lewis and also Tanja Meyburgh who accompanied me through the next years. Both gave enormous effort to have FC happen in South Africa in the early years of the new millennium.

What was your impression of South Africa?

I loved South Africa from the first day. It touched me so deeply. Africa was like coming home, finding what I had been looking for for all my life. I found people with open hearts and pride, ready to learn and to move on through their history.

Ever since I was first in Africa in 1995 for holidays, I have come back every year at least once, sometimes two or three times. Whenever possible, I would combine holidays with workshops and then later with the trainings for Family Constellations Africa (FCA).

How did FCA come about?

It was a collaboration between Tanja Meyburgh, Svenja Wachter and myself, along with support and input from a number of others. My meeting with Tanja was an immediate, very personal encounter. We just skipped over the social preliminaries. In the following year she started organizing workshops in the Joburg and Pretoria area and invited me for facilitating.

My meeting with Svenja Wachter had the same friendly, direct quality. She had connected with me through Gunthard Weber, with whom she had had her systemic coaching training. One day we found ourselves sitting in my kitchen in Munich. There was a real understanding, a knowing of each other. Without wasting time, we set about making plans together.

From those seeds, 65 FCA graduates were trained by renowned facilitators and trainers which were friends and colleagues of mine who joined the movement to bring FC to South Africa.

What kind of issues arise in South Africa?

In the beginning we had only white participants in our workshops with issues of immigration and past wars similar to histories of others in western countries. But what is normal in European descendants doesn’t mean that is normal elsewhere. Every person and culture is different.

Soon, the very specific subjects of recent African history showed up – apartheid naturally, but also immigration from India. And in later years came up the consequences of tribal fights and slavery.

How is working in South Africa different?

I learned in South Africa how ethno-centric normal northern European thinking is – and moved away from the unconscious perspective that the right way to think is the one which developed from Greco-Roman roots. European missionaries were confident that they knew the ‘right’ God and imposed those beliefs and social structures in Africa and elsewhere around the world.

Western thinking later developed and valued people acting as individualized, independent elements in society. This seeing and acting from the individual perspective became the highest goal. While this gives a kind of effectiveness, it left a legacy of people feeling disconnected.

In African history, we see much more collective conscience. In South Africa there is greater consciousness of the importance of interconnectedness with others. There is an unquestioned knowing of belonging. With all the consequences that this brings.

Neither the European nor the African approach is more right or brings about more peace.

Wouldn’t you say that the sense of interconnectedness and belonging brings more peace?

Yes, it brings more peace within the group where one belongs, but not necessarily between groups. Belonging brings with it safety and identity. It is what defines who is in a group – and who is not. For broader peace, belonging to a greater whole brings greater peace.

How does FC fit with the South African perspective?

In a way FC completes a circle. FC has drawn ideas from traditional African healing and is close to some traditional ancestral healing of South Africa. One of the participants came to me after the workshop and said, ‘I am so glad to see what you do in Family Constellations. This is what we have done for generations. And now it is being recognized again through the white dominant science.’

How has the South African perspective informed you as a German?

What struck me was how the people were lead to deal with the consequences and the aftermath of apartheid. I didn’t witness but heard about the radio programs where the confessions of the perpetrators, their statements in front of the commission of truth and reconciliation were broadcast for months every day. So that every citizen was taking part and a public forum was given. Friends of mine had said: “We couldn’t hear it any more, it was appalling to listen to all the stories and atrocities every day. But we knew that we had to listen as our duty as citizens. This was our way to keep our hearts open.”

It is said that this way of publicly dealing with guilt and reconciliation prevented a civil war between the different parties. Deeply knowing the way Germany, Japan, Russia or any other party involved in the two world wars had dealt with their own pasts, the capacity of the people such as Nelson Mandela, the commission for Truth and Reconciliation and all people involved impressed me.  I wonder what Germany would be like? How would the well being, health and relationships in the families of those who had been participants in the war change? How would the relationships between spouses and children look, if a collective process on the war experiences of all the different sides would have been possible? Germany had the big silence, followed by massive revolts of the following generation. And then huge dynamics remaining from things not felt and non-spoken. Now after more than sixty years, we are slowly coming to terms with the German past –  with families overcoming the war traumas in their own systems, with their fathers and grandfathers, and with the suffering of the mothers and grandmothers, too. Family constellation has helped so much to understand the way we are bound into our system and what we now can do in our own hearts, to heal the past and by doing so in presence, to create a strong basis for our own future.

Ursula Franke-Bryson, PhD. in Systemic Constellations. In praxis since 1990, trainer DGfS. Author of “In My Mind’s Eye – Family constellation in individual therapy and consultation” which is used by practitioners worldwide, and “The River Never Looks Back – historical and practical foundations of Bert Hellinger’s family constellation” – a seminal book which places Systemic Constellations in the context of psychotherapeutic practice.

Dr. Franke-Bryson brings a broad range of therapeutic experience to her training, facilitation and individual practice. She is teaching and training worldwide and has her private praxis in Munich. Member: ISCA International Systemic Constellation Association.

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