In psychology, there are many techniques and tools that professionals use to improve patients’ well-being, within the framework of therapy. One way is through therapeutic rituals, which can be very useful to mark the passage of time and help us process emotions.
The importance of rituals is that, in addition to being able to perform them on a regular basis, they give a different meaning to everyday life and invite us to reflect. Let’s see what they’re about.
What is a ritual?
Although there are different definitions of what a ritual is, they are generally characterized by the following:
- They are a specific action or sequence of actions. That is, they not only occur in the realm of thought, but are expressed in an action or practice.
- They have something specific or special with them. This means that the language or objects you use have a different meaning, different from their everyday meaning. Therefore, they have a very symbolic content.
- They require preparation.
- Although they can acquire their own personal characteristics or nuances, it is a way of performing the ritual. The execution takes place repeatedly.
In the same way, a ritual can also serve the function of marking a milestone, marking the passage or switching from one stage to another. Finally, they are a way of materializing change in a double direction. From the inside out and from the outside in.
The change happens, and we express it and communicate it through the ritual. At this point, it is important that the patient knows that they are participating and that they are a part of it when they use them in therapy.
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What are therapeutic rituals used for in psychology?
Therapeutic rituals are used in psychology as a tool or technique with a purpose. This purpose will depend on the goals that were previously established with the patient.
One of the uses has to do with the possibility that the person experiences this ritual as a transition. That is, as an intermediate stop, as a step.
They also mark the beginning and the end of something. For example, an exam. In general, this involves the presentation of a diploma the person has obtained and the organization of a small celebration as a way of indicating that one is going from one state to another.
Rituals are also used as a way to move forward. For example, you can think of them as part of the grief of a separation or a death. The therapist can ask the patient to get rid of objects or objects that belonged to the loved one or that symbolize the ended relationship.
Many times, therapists prescribe rituals between sessions to achieve a specific goal and practice a certain skill.
In family therapy, rituals are especially interesting because they contain a lot of information about what is happening in the family. They indicate the importance of what has been done and why, the degree of participation of the members and the hierarchies.
What are the benefits of therapeutic rituals?
In psychological therapy, it is often not enough to just express or verbalize what is happening to us. We may need to move on to action, to experiences, and to give life to our emotions.
To do this, it is useful to perform a ritual. Rituals have a meaning and a reason to be. Sometimes we do them on autopilot, but their symbolic significance comes from the fact that we think we like or achieve something by doing them.
Among the benefits we can mention the following:
- When performed on an individual level, they bring joy and satisfaction. For example, many people follow certain patterns of behavior to the letter as a way to seek peace of mind.
- If they are shared and established between people, they promote a sense of belonging and togetherness. For example, in some homes, the ritual of putting the Christmas tree together continues. Or to count down to the new year on December 31st.
- They also allow for the expression of emotions. They can serve as a liberating catharsis.
- Therapeutic rituals help to treat our emotions or difficult situations. For example, this is the case with funerals and mourning.
Our lives are full of rituals
If we think about how rituals are present in our lives, we will realize that there are many more than we think. For example, the most common and well-known are the following:
- Preparation of special food to celebrate an important event. For example, the arrival of a baby for a couple who have been looking forward to it for a long time.
- Buying a new garment for a special occasion.
- A change of hair color or a new hairstyle when we are looking for a new beginning.
- Birthday celebrations.
- Wedding day celebrations.
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Rituals evoke meaning beyond the actions themselves
Rituals have their modus operandi, that is, there is something that is repeated and that makes full sense. Maybe it’s not the action itself, but the date it takes place. Rituals do not have to be stereotypical, but what really matters is that they are meaningful to the person.
Finally, at the first glance of an external observer, the ritual may appear to be a simple set of actions. However, its strength lies in the meaning given to the action or actions it entails. Hence its importance as a therapeutic resource.