During 1986-87 I was graduating from the teacher training in fine arts, and I spent my graduation year making costumes inspired by old photo’s of Siberian shamans and my own dreams. I moved to Finland where I worked for three years at various design institutes and academies of fine arts. After my return to Amsterdam I gradually stopped working in art education so I could dedicate all my time to teaching shamanism. The solid didactic training I had when I was learning how to become a teacher has continued to be an important resource in every group and training program I lead. In 1991 I started working as a guest teacher in shamanism at the Elfenbank center. There I met Ivana Caprioli, and for a few years together we were leading our own ongoing shamanic training groups. We created new exercises and rituals for each group session, inspired by the things we learned and experienced in our dreams. Next to the trainings I was leading together with Ivana, I also had an ongoing training program in Paris on my own and often worked as guest teacher in various countries. Wallace Black Elk (Lakota Sioux) and Ailo Gaup (Sami) were important teachers for me during that time.
In 1998 I took a sabbatical from teaching shamanism and I was introduced to Bert Hellinger’s family constellations. He had based his constellation work on elements from various other disciplines in the fields of therapy and added some of his own finds. For example, the use of representatives for family members had been introduced by Virginia Satir in her family sculptures, and Bert Hellinger learned about the healing sentences that are used to restore order and balance to a relationship or system from Eric Berne, the founder of transactional analysis. Hellinger added his own observations and theory about the dynamics of belonging and loyalty to family and groups.
The similarities and differences between shamanic rituals and family constellations fascinated me and I started writing letters to Bert Hellinger. For a year and a half I devoted a lot of my time to this correspondence. Supported by Bert, I edited the letters I had written him and wrote my book ‘Images of the Soul’, which by now has been published in many languages. After the publication of this book the exchange between Bert Hellinger and I gradually came to an end, the developments in our work took us to different directions. The publication of ‘Images of the Soul’ and the support of Bert Hellinger opened many new doors, and soon I was giving an average of thirty seminars in ten different countries a year. I explored the ways in which aspects of constellations and elements of shamanic ritual could be combined, and gradually systemic ritual found its form.
Systemic ritual differs from family constellations and from shamanism. In systemic ritual one can recognize the influence of family constellations in the use of the representation method and the use of healing sentences. The shamanic roots of the method reveal themselves in the sound of the drum, the ongoing prayers and the use of ground plans and fixed structures that guide the movements of the ritual. In many systemic rituals a lot of representatives are active. For example: the people in the center can be surrounded by circles or groups of ancestors. In this form of systemic work the emphasis is more on the essence or archaic structure of a family story than on the specific precise details. Experience has shown that systemic ritual can be a powerful method for groups in which people and/or their ancestors share a collective trauma or difficult history such as war, slavery, persecution, natural disasters, forced migration and/or others.
Systemic ritual was developed over time in hundreds of seminars. It has its own theoretical foundation which serves as a guide how to apply and develop the work further. I have protected the name with an international registered trade mark, so Systemic Ritual® is now a fact. Over the years, I have been leading hundreds of groups and have worked with thousands of people. I had the honor to be invited in many different countries and visited all continents except Australia. Worldwide, many constellation facilitators apply aspects of my style in their own systemic work because they have found inspiration in it, which is wonderful. Still, to guarantee that a facilitator has a thorough understanding of the method, I have created the SRT (Systemic Ritual® Training). Someone who has completed this program has a thorough understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the method.