Facilitating Constellations with Zoom

28th March 2020

Many of my clients, supervisees and students have been asking me if it is possible, and how to facilitate Constellations online, using Zoom. This blog is in response to the urgent need that is arising for professional coaches, facilitators, therapists and others, to be able to provide high-quality client support remotely, during this period of social isolation.

First, it is worth clarifying the question… The systemic theory of Constellations can be applied practically without setting up a constellation – something I have been doing in my organisational work and teaching for many years. Also, coaches and therapists who are constellations practitioners have almost certainly been using Constellations in one-to-one work by telephone and skype for some time: for example, during telephone coaching and supervision sessions, I often ask my clients to stand up and to use cushions to represent aspects of the issue we are exploring together. What is new and unique to these particular times, is the question of how to run Constellations by Zoom – with a group of people who are each alone, and online in very separate locations with no physical access to one another.

What is new and unique to these particular times, is the question of how to run Constellations by Zoom – with a group of people who are each alone, and online in very separate locations with no physical access to one another.

For the last two weeks I have been running Constellations teaching modules remotely, for groups of 30 people, as well as Constellating remotely, so I am convinced that it is absolutely possible to work in this way. And – we need to be aware of the limitations of undertaking embodied work in a virtual space, and to develop greater facility in using ourselves and the virtual medium very differently…

So what practical tips can I share that might help improve your work in this virtual space?

Familiarise yourselves and your clients with the technology!

This sounds obvious, but I’ve heard of many coaches who don’t yet know the difference between speaker view and gallery view; who don’t know how to mute the group; or how to instruct a group of clients to communicate with them through the chat function; or use Zoom’s ‘raise a hand’ facility to signal that they have something to contribute; or use whiteboards or polling functions occasionally… Go here for answers to Zoom’s 10 most Frequently Asked Questions… At the start of running a virtual Zoom Constellation it is worth spending 10 minutes walking your group through the etiquette of how to interact with you and one another. For instance, with group Constellations you need people to:

  • Use a desktop not a smartphone
  • Turn off all other applications and programs (emails, etc)
  • Stay on Gallery View throughout the Constellation
  • Stay on Video throughout the Constellation unless told otherwise (more of that below)
  • It is best not to use earbuds or headphones (unless they are BlueTooth) – if asked to be a representative, you will have to take your earbuds out to move around so you won’t be able to hear anything!
  • Ensure that people are not back-lit (they will appear as silhouettes and important phenomenological data, about facial expression for example, will be lost). Ask people in advance to have a good light source on their face so that they can be seen.
  • If you or some of the participants are recording the Constellation (which anyone can do) you need to contract for confidentially clearly. And, people in the Constellations need to be aware that recordings can and will travel! There is nothing as a facilitator you can do about this, except to make your boundaries clear…
  • If constellating large groups (20+) it might help if you have a dedicated person who is holding the technological space so that you can hold the clients and issues, without being distracted.

 Be aware of the difference in looking at people on a Zoom screen and in person!

Constellations is based on us reading embodied and spatial cues. When we are in the same room together, we all see pretty much the same thing! But on Zoom, things are different. For example, On Gallery View on my screen, the person in the top left-hand corner of my screen might appear in the centre of your Gallery View! More confusingly, Zoom sometimes flips screens - if you ask the group to point to their right, you will see that not everyone points in the same direction! Zoom has a ‘mirror’ function so while everyone does indeed point to their right, if some have mirroring enabled, in the virtual world they will seem to be pointing to their left!

 When running a Constellation…

  • After hearing about your client’s issue and suggesting which representatives will be needed, the issue-holder will invite people from the Gallery to be representatives. If people accept this role, ask them to stand up, and to adjust their monitors so that we can all see them (often when people stand up, we often lose their heads and legs!).
  • Ask those remaining people who are not representatives, but who now form the ‘holding circle;’ for the work, to turn off their videos so we only see a black square with their name on it on the Gallery View. This helps us all to stay with the representatives more fully.
  • I have experimented with asking representatives to use the ‘rename’ function on Zoom (click on ‘Participants’ and look for the Rename button at the bottom of the pop-up window) so that rather than their own names appearing, what we see on screen are the names of the representatives roles – for example, rather than ‘Ty’ my screen name might say ‘Company Culture’ or ‘CEO’ or ‘Former Employee’. If you choose to use this rename facility remember to get representatives to revert to their proper names when they are released from their roles.
  • Stay with as few representative as possible. This is always good practice in Constellations work anyway, but it reduces complexity enormously for us in the virtual space.
  • Obviously, the issue-holder cannot physically stand behind each representative and place them, as they would in an ‘in-person’ situation. Therefore, each representative (who is already standing up) needs to move around in the room they are in and find their place themselves. Some people will move out of the camera’s view – this can be data! It could be a significant part of the constellation, that no-one can see them! And for some facilitators, you might wish to instruct your representatives to stay within camerashot… I think it is a matter of confidence for the facilitator.
  • In virtual constellations, the use of sentences becomes even more important to the facilitation work. You might need to make use of sentences sooner rather than later in this virtual space.
  • The issue of releasing representatives at the end of the Constellation needs different attention – invite the client to use each person’s real name (which is always up on the Zoom screen) and say something like, “Thank you [Name]. I take back from you everything that is not yours to carry and am happy for you to take with you anything from this constellation that strengthens you.”

Supportive Software

In addition to the ways of adapting my facilitation, described above, I am also experimenting with specific software packages such as ProReal. This software allows you to add emotions, gestures, sentences and more… While expensive, this is absolutely groundbreaking technology for virtual Constellators and might be worth the investment for many practitioners.

 Please feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information or attend a virtual Constellations session!

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