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Healing in Rituals

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Healing in Rituals

In psychology and other scientific fields, one form of inquiry is meta-analysis.  Meta-analysis involves running a series of statistical analyses to find common trends among a body of existing research.  In other words, a researcher who is conducting a meta-analysis will seek to find a common thread among existing well-established and replicable, research studies. 


When I began my journey as a therapist, I was immediately drawn to the Common Factors Theory.  The Common Factors theory grew out of meta-analysis of evidence-based modalities of treatment in the field of counseling.  In counseling, there are a wide range of approaches counselors use to facilitate growth and healing in their clients.  Some of these approaches include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Based Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Person-Centered Therapy, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Existential Therapy, Adlerian/Individual Psychology, Jungian/Analytical Psychology, Psychodynamic Therapy, Transpersonal Therapy, Reality Therapy, etc.  (This is not an exhaustive list of therapeutic approaches). Counseling ethics require therapists to use interventions and approaches that are evidence based (meaning the approach has been subjected to the scientific method, tested, and empirically validated).  Each therapist chooses an approach to which they adhere to in their practice; this choice is referred to as the counselor's "theoretical orientation". 


Counseling researchers have used meta-analysis in order to find common phenomenon amongst all the evidenced based approaches.  Frank & Frank (1991, pp. 42-44) examined a collection of research from a wide array of counseling approaches, determining that effective healing in counseling occurs regardless of the approach being used by the therapist as long as these "common factors" are addressed:


  1.  The therapist is able to build a caring, emotionally involving relationship with the client.  The client feels accepted and understood. 

  2.  The healing setting provides a sense of safety - the client not only knows they are safe, but they FEEL safe.

  3. The therapist provides a rationale (typically drawing on their theoretical orientation) to explain internal and external challenges the client is facing. The client experiences insight, gaining a better understanding of what may be driving their presenting concerns.

  4. And last (in my personal opinion most interesting, and the topic of this blog post), the client is able to engage in a ritual or procedure for change that elicits enactment by both therapist and client. 


Rituals in counseling can look different - perhaps the therapist engages the client in deep breathing, a guided meditation, an art exercise, etc.  Therapists call these "interventions", but at their core all interventions are types of rituals.  Common Factors theory describes that enactment of the ritual as the driver for healing, instead of the specific intervention.  The client and therapist must both believe the ritual is healing. 


To be clear, this does not mean that interventions do not work.  There are particular nuances to healing and I'm cautious about this topic, as I do not want to promote a level of toxic positivity.  A simple belief you will heal does not necessarily lead to healing.  However, it seems that engaging in rituals in a therapeutic context generally is helpful.  


This is by no means a new or innovative idea. Rituals have been used across time and across cultures to assist with healing. Rituals give us a sense of meaning, expansiveness, and prompt interconnection - be it connection with the self, others, nature, the universe, something or someone greater than us. 


Rituals have power.  I hope each of us, in counseling contexts and also beyond, can find at least one ritual that brings us a sense of peace, healing, and interconnection.