Bert Hellinger is probably Europe’s most innovative and provocative psychotherapist and a best-selling psychotherapy author. A former priest and a missionary to the Zulu in South Africa for 16 years, as well as an educator, a psychoanalyst, body therapist, group dynamic therapist, and a family therapist, he brings a lifetime of experience and wisdom to his work. The family constellations, which have become the hallmark of Hellinger’s approach, as well as his observations about systemic entanglement and resolution, have touched the lives of thousands of people and have changed how many helping professionals carry out their own work.
Bert Hellinger has written 83 books. Translations of them are available in 30 languages. His work is documented in many CDs, DVDs, Audiobooks and eBooks.
Bert Hellinger says that his parents and his childhood home were a major influence on his later work. Their particular form of faith immunized the family against believing the distortions of National Socialism. Because of Hellinger`s repeated absences from the required meetings of the Hitler Youth Organization and his participation in an illegal Catholic youth organization, he was eventually classified by the Gestapo as ‵Suspected of Being an Enemy of the People’. As fate would have it, his escape from the Gestapo was made possible by being drafted. Just 17 years old, he became a soldier, experienced the realities of combat, capture, defeat, and life in a prisoner of war camp in Belgium with the allies.
The second major influence was certainly his childhood wish to become a priest. At the age of 20, he entered a Catholic religious order and began the long process of purification of body, mind and spirit in silence, study, contemplation and meditation. He went on to spend 16 years in South Africa as a missionary to the Zulu, an experience that had a profound effect on his later work. There he directed a large school, taught, and was parish priest simultaneously. With time he came to feel as much at home with the Zulu as is possible for a European. The process of leaving one culture to live in another sharpened his awareness of the relativity of many cultural values.
Hellingers`s participation in an interracial, ecumenical training in group dynamics led by Anglican clergy was also tremendously influential. Here he was introduced to a way of working with groups that valued dialogue, phenomenology, and individual human experience. His decision to leave the religious order after 25 years came with the realization that being a priest no longer was an appropriate expression of his inner growth.
Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy were to be the next major influence. Several therapeutic schools have made their marks on his work, in addition to the phenomenological/dialogical orientation of the group dynamics from the Anglicans, the fundamental need for humans to align themselves with the forces of nature he learned from the Anglicans and the Zulu in South Africa, the psychoanalysis he learned in Vienna, and the body-work he learned in America.
He trained in family therapy with Ruth McCledon and Leslie Kadis, and went on to work with Milton H. Erickson, and others. Those familiar with the full range of psychotherapy will recognize in this approach a unique integration of diverse elements. In the gathering of powerful approaches from psychotherapy as well as other paradigms, he has created a uniquely compelling healing approach. He has learned specific tools from a variety of sources, but the overarching strength of his work comes from his refined skill of listening to the authority of one`s own soul. This is not a guaranteed ‵technique′, it is, rather, the only real protection we have against the seduction of false authority according to Hellinger. Seeing ‵what is′ as opposed to blindly accepting what is being said – no matter by whom – is the linchpin of this often difficult healing work for individuals, groups, communities and cultures.
Before taking to psychotherapy, he had studied philosophy and theology in Germany. Subsequently, he obtained the University Education Diploma in South Africa where, for several years, he worked as a teacher and principal of a teachers’ training college for africans.