Rituals can facilitate healing in both shamanic and psychotherapeutic work. They can be used to aid reconciliation in families, request support for individuals or families during difficult times, or acknowledge healing from illness or trauma. Rituals can mark life transitions, including the beginning or ending of significant relationships. They can celebrate life, and prepare us for our journeys into death.
In this post I will write about rituals for relationship. We are all acquainted with marriages. Marriages are rituals that acknowledge a shift in the status of a relationship, usually an increase in both commitment and expectation. Marriages usually engage friends and family, build community support for the couple, and encourage thoughtful preparation. The best rituals, of all kinds, do all of these.
Some couples enter counseling, or seek shamanic healing or advice, prior to formalizing the decision to marry. Often these couples wish to evaluate the strengths and challenges of their relationships, as well as to work through any issues standing in the way of commitment. For couples preparing to commit, a ritual in which they ask the Creator and ancestors to provide blessing and guidance can be helpful. When there are unresolved issues with former lovers, or multigenerational family traumas, a ritual to placate unhappy spirits can ease the path forward.
Often individuals or couples come for aid with a separation or divorce. When there is relative harmony between the couple, rituals of appreciation, acceptance, and uncoupling can be healing. When there is great enmity, and one partner is abusive, the abused partner may benefit from a ritual to break the energetic bond with the abusive partner, allowing movement toward a more fulfilling future.
When a beloved spouse or partner, or relationship, dies, we grieve. At some point, the sense of overwhelming sadness and loss begins to wane. Over time, we may find ourselves ready to once again enter the world of dating and relationships. At such times, a ritual of appreciation for all of the good in our past relationship may be important. So might a ritual that asks our lost love to release us to continue our lives. Often, beloveds release the survivors, while staying in touch to provide love and support.
Let’s end this brief survey of relationship rituals by speaking about rituals for ongoing relationships. Even the best of relationships go through difficult times. Rituals that acknowledge the challenges, and the love and commitment of the partners, can be greatly healing at such times. When things are going well, rituals of appreciation, both for the other person, and for the great community of support, provide much needed and appreciated acknowledgment. Finally, rituals that acknowledge major life transitions can be powerful glue for relationship. Imagine a ritual that acknowledges the good work, heartbreak, and hope implied in sending that last child off to college.
Rituals can be conducted alone, with friends, or in the company of a large support system. In First Nations traditions, ritual implies community. Even when a ritual or ceremony is conducted alone, in the privacy of one’s own thoughts, there is implied a community of support. I believe firmly that it is important, whenever possible, to engage friends and family as allies when making ritual. Ritual heals the participants and the witnesses, weaving a bright network of connection, support, and love, and in doing so, calling forth the healer in each of us.
2 thoughts on “Healing Relationships: Rituals in Psychotherapy and Shamanic Healing”
I can certainly vouch for the significance of ritual having just sent my last child off to university yesterday. When faced with the chaos and madness of 4000 students trying to move and settle into a new environment it is a blessing to be able to move the mind into a rite a passage place that honours the transition, the personal courage and the rightness of the moment no matter how challenging. Just holding the space in this frame of mind colours the whole experience with respect and gratitude.
Another nice article Michael! I think we are as a non-shamanic society more apt to have celebratory rituals, so it is nice to be reminded of the healing significance of ritual as well. Thanks!
What a splendid experience! All that meaningful chaos! Congratulations! I used to have such complex emotions when the kids went to school. Each semester was very sweet and also sad. Then came graduation, and a completely different life.