Behind the Scenes: Family Constellations on Netflix’s Sex, Love & goop
Behind the Scenes: Family Constellations on Netflix’s Sex, Love & goop
“I was brought up an atheist, and all this would have been way too woo-woo for me, but bit by bit I got out of my rigidity around what I don’t comprehend rationally,” says Kato Wittich (pictured above). “And I don’t care about how this is happening anymore. I care that I get to watch this exquisite beauty unfold. That I get to be part of that. And it’s not coming from me as a facilitator. I’m a participant, too. I just give experimental nudges and we wait and see how they affect the whole picture.”
Wittich is a family constellations facilitator (more on that in a moment) who you can see at work in our new Netflix series Sex, Love & goop. She’s the only teacher in the series who isn’t focused specifically on sex.
In the fifth episode of Sex, Love & goop, Wittich works with Dash and Sera, who have been together a year and a half and say they are still in the honeymoon period. It’s obvious, immediately, that they are deeply attracted to one another. As Gwyneth says to them, “Yours is clearly not a sex issue.” What Dash and Sera do want help with: leaving behind relationship patterns that haven’t served them well in the past. They were both previously married to other people and divorced. Dash has a self-identified history of becoming avoidant and doesn’t want to do that with Sera. Sera left prior relationships by cheating, but she doesn’t want to repeat that behavior. “I came to Dash with a really bad track record,” she says. They adore each other and don’t want to fuck it up.
With Wittich’s help, they set out to learn more about why they’ve carried out these patterns in the past. The method Wittich uses, family constellations, is not conventional. A main tenet of family constellations is that our dysfunctional patterns are not our own. Instead, they are deep-rooted family patterns that were once functional and necessary but are now troublesome. Family constellation therapy typically involves working in a group. The client picks random people (called resonators) to represent members of their family—and only the client and the facilitator have any information about who is being represented and what the family history is.
Wittich leads Dash and Sera each through their own “constellation.” Dash is up first: From a group of strangers assembled to create Dash’s constellation, Dash picks a random person to represent Dash. Eventually Dash picks others to represent significant family members and they appear to accurately represent the family members’ mannerisms, vibe, and dynamics as they interact. It’s a bit like watching improv and a bit like watching a play—there’s tension, drama, mystery, revelation. Wittich says the movement doesn’t come from the resonators themselves but from something that comes through them. Which she calls “the field.”
At the end of their constellations, both Dash and Sera feel that they have discovered a more thorough answer to a question many of us ask ourselves every day: Why am I the way I am? They’ve also unearthed a more interesting answer to the question they wanted to address at the outset: How do we make this partnership different from our past?
Months after filming wrapped—and after she had coached Dash and Sera through the aftermath—we spoke to Wittich about the experience, family constellations, and her wider work.
A Q&A with Kato Wittich
I use the word “field” because we have to have some verbal description of our mysterious interconnection in order to communicate about it. I don’t pretend to know what it is or how it works. All our theories about it are just attempts to make sense of something that is way past our ability to comprehend mentally. Many contemporary philosophers walk the edge between science, Buddhism, and mysticism and propose that we are not separate at all—that separateness is an illusion.
The experience of that, for me, is clear over and over again when I facilitate any form of family constellations. We are all interconnected outside of time and space in ways that seem impossible and yet are undeniable when witnessed. You see it in the constellations with Dash and Sera. The source of information that family constellations founder Bert Hellinger called “the knowing field” shows up again and again as resonators who know nothing about Dash or Sera accurately mirror their family system and through that mirroring bring ease and healing and nonjudgment. Over the years, I’ve come to trust that all we have to do is open and the field will come through us in ways that are inexplicable and incredibly beautiful.
To restore flow by bringing forward whatever had to be excluded or ignored or pushed down for the family to survive, so that the unconscious patterns can be acknowledged and will no longer need to be repeated in the client’s daily life.
Most transformational modalities acknowledge that the unconscious patterns that shape our lives are usually not just our own. They might come from our family culture or our epigenetics. In family constellations, we witness over and over again that patterns that are nonfunctional in our lives now had some previous function for the family system. Those patterns were needed in some way; they helped the family as a whole survive. In each constellation, we’re unraveling the blockage that comes when we carry on a blind allegiance to those inherited patterns.
Our mental interpretations of what we see in a constellation may not always be accurate, since our conscious mind filters everything we perceive through a confirmation bias, which allows us to see only what we already expect. So we hold our interpretations lightly. When we do constellations, everyone in the room can feel the shift happening as the blocks dissolve and the flow is being restored. Those changes are seen concretely in the changes in the client’s life, so it is not important how accurate our interpretations are.
Sera knew her maternal grandmother had been suicidal and had had grief issues, but Sera never would have pointed to that as a source affecting her relationships in the present. And yet it was clear in her constellation that Sera’s grandmother had handed her grief to Sera’s mother, who had handed it to Sera. In the constellation, that grief, in the form of a backpack, was given back to the grandmother by the mother. The resonator representing the grandmother felt more stable holding her own grief, even though it was painful. We each need to face our own grief in order to be whole—no one can do it for us. Once the grandmother was carrying her own grief, all the other resonators began to feel ease and an opening of new possibilities for the future.
I love group work. I’ve been lucky to do it since the beginning of my work with constellations. I love the complexity and depth that come through the resonators. And I love that because the information from the field is coming through the resonators, I can’t manipulate what is happening. I have to just be lost and wait and see what emerges. At one point on camera, I thought, Well, I’m going to look stupid; this is the one constellation that’s not going to work. I often think that when I am working. But eventually whatever connects us all comes through if we stay out of our own way. I give things tiny nudges, but I don’t push. I let it unfold. And when the important pieces shift, everyone feels it. And the client then has the option to live life not encumbered by the past but by having a deep, rich experience of the past for support.
I was grateful to be asked to work with two members of a couple at the same time. It’s pretty unusual. I don’t know of anyone doing that as a practice. I’ve worked with couples, but they do the work separately, on different time frames. This experiment was powerful and not always easy.
Both Dash and Sera were willing to break up their systemic and ancient family patterns. They were both already deeply aware of their individual intimacy issues and wanted to shift them. And they did—at the same time. That was a big deal, to live through the tsunami of that sort of change simultaneously.
They didn’t have an easy time in the first week. Many people have a rocky period after their constellations, especially their first one. You’re deconstructing your deepest patterns. You get the rug pulled out from under your feet—the ground of who you are is challenged and you have to find a new way to be.
I coached them a bit afterward because I think they needed someone to say: This is normal. It’s okay; it’s necessary to feel lost. You are having to rediscover each other—which is what they wanted to do—without your systemic family patterns. They needed to find new paths, and they were both doing it at once. I think just hearing that it was okay to be lost and struggling with the newness of it all gave them enough space to stay in connection with each other as they rode the waves of big shifts.
In addition to family constellations, I am also a Rosen practitioner and have many years of practice in holding individuals exactly where they are and helping them to feel safe feeling strong feelings. [Editor’s note: More on the Rosen Method below.] I coached Dash and Sera individually but mostly together, so they could witness each other without reactivity, since I was holding the container. That’s all they needed—to see each other clearly and kindly. And kindness is their instinct anyhow. They were able to find their way back to each other very quickly. They became aware that they had jump-started their relationship. Dash said something like they had jumped twenty years forward in their relationship by doing this process. They are an amazing couple—I was delighted to work with them. They are two human beings committed to doing their own work and to finding intimacy with themselves so that they can have healthy intimacy with each other.
Another reason I loved working with Dash and Sera: They don’t have rigid gender perspectives, and neither do I. I believe that we are all on a spectrum. Many facilitators suggest that clients pick resonators who are the same gender as the person they are representing. But I always feel that something valuable comes out of it when a client picks a resonator of a different gender, as Sera did. I fully trust the instincts of the client. Our mental constructs are not the important guides.
In Sera’s constellation, she chose a woman to be her father and a man to be her mother, and they both accurately mirrored the people they were resonating, without any prior information on who they were chosen to be. I trust that there were subtleties that came from those choices that were deconstructing rigid gender assumptions and important in restoring flow.
Also, I always love it when a constellation shows us accurately something from the past that the client does not know themselves but later confirms with family members. In this case, Dash didn’t know a lot about their maternal great-grandfather. In the constellation, this great-grandfather was constantly acting withdrawn and avoidant, off on his own. And this was a major issue that Dash wanted to work on, their own tendency to become avoidant and withdrawn, so it was interesting to see the resonator for the great-grandfather behaving that way. Then, after the constellation, Dash spoke to their mother and found out that it was a deeply accurate portrait of their great-grandfather, who was withdrawn and avoidant in real life.
How this works, I have no idea and I don’t pretend to know. There’s some kind of information we can all access that does not seem to be limited by time or locality or even what the client does or does not know.
We were all terrified. [Laughs.] There was a lot of resistance on everyone’s part. And yet everyone knew it was important to get out and show the work—it’s something you have to see to begin to grasp. When you describe it to people, it sounds crazy and impossible, so you just have to experience it.
I was so touched by working with the team, the producer, the DP, and the camerawomen. As a woman who worked for a long time in the film industry as a first AD before there were many women in major crew positions, being on that set with female camerapeople, DP, and producers…my heart was wide-open from the beginning. It felt like they were just part of the constellation with us. We forgot they were sticking cameras in our faces. It was a wonderful experience.
Rosen Method Bodywork is a form of somatic therapy that does not separate the mind and body. In Rosen, we know that one of the most effective ways to reach the unconscious is through the body, and we use touch and talk to access the deep feelings and emotional patterns that are often not accessible solely through the conscious mind. The method was founded by Marion Rosen, who began her training in the exploration of humanness in Germany in the 1930s, in the time before bodywork and talk therapies were divided into separate practices. I was lucky to have Marion as one of my primary teachers.
Rosen Method is based on the premise that when events or emotions are too much for us, we contract physically. Those contractions are often needed to protect us from overwhelming feelings in childhood, when we are powerless to change our circumstances. But as adults, when we have the resources to take care of ourselves, the habit of contracting so that we will not feel too much blocks us from knowing what we want and need and prevents us from living the full and rich lives that are possible when we can allow all feelings to flow through us.
It is a deep practice of presence that informs everything I do. At its core, it is about discovering that it is safe for us to feel ourselves fully, to not put away any part of ourselves. Marion often said it is about becoming the person you really are, not the person you think you should be.
Rosen looks a little like a table massage, but it is very different because we are not trying to change the muscular contractions with manipulation. Practitioners come with listening hands and open, inquisitive words and deep curiosity to the places where the body is holding tension. These places are often just waiting to be met, to feel safe enough to let up the emotions that caused the contractions in the first place. When those emotions are allowed to be fully felt, the contractions are no longer necessary and usually begin to dissolve.
Our training is incredibly complex and incredibly simple. We don’t manipulate or fix. We’re not doing anything to the client—we’re midwifing. We’re holding the space of safety that the client probably didn’t have—the safety to be completely with themselves, to feel whatever is there. And as they discover that it is not dangerous to feel even the most painful feelings, often joy comes flooding in.
In life we do not get to choose which feelings we let in. You cannot feel joy if you cannot let yourself feel pain. When we block any feelings, we block our capacity for all other feelings. But when we find out it’s safe to feel ourselves fully, our nervous systems begin to rewire themselves and our capacity for joy and ease expands. The more you let in, the more you want to let in. And bit by bit, you come to feel safe to feel all of yourself.
My Rosen practice has helped me to become skilled at staying present and being comfortable with being lost—just willing to stay there. And that very much informs my constellation practice, as now I know in my bones that the deepest work and biggest shifts come when we let ourselves get lost, when we surrender to what is.
It’s beautiful, profound work, and like constellations, it is life-changing.
Go to my website for lots of information on both family constellations and Rosen. If you give us your email, we will put you on our contact list and you will get an email as soon as we resume doing group constellations post-COVID. Unfortunately, my waiting lists for both practices are long, and I do not want people to wait for either of these profound modalities, so I have put together lists of other practitioners who may be available sooner than I am, as well as suggestions for those of you who are not in the Los Angeles area.
There are also other forms of constellations practice, such as IoPT, developed by Franz Ruppert, which is ideally suited to being done online as it requires only a few resonators rather than the larger group. I will most likely do some online sessions of my own version of it, called integration constellations, and if you are on the mailing list, you will get an invitation when I start those sessions again. However, there are numerous practitioners who are leading online sessions based on that work, so there is no reason to wait to dive in and experience the astonishing beauty of swimming in whatever it is that connects us all, even when we are online and in our own homes.
Katarina (Kato) Wittich is a certified Rosen practitioner, Yuen practitioner, and family constellations facilitator.