"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Therapeutic Power of Byzantine (and other) Rituals

Well do I remember seeing first hand, more than a decade ago, the healing power of ritual--in this case the Byzantine "rite of forgiveness" served on the eve of the Great Fast each year. Two people who had been bitterly estranged for years prostrated themselves before each other--as they and we all did--and it served at last to overcome their anger and misunderstanding. One of them reported to me right afterwards--with an enormous sigh of visible relief--that even after decades of knowing intellectually the power of liturgy, it still amazed him emotionally to experience so powerfully the real healing and reconciliation the rite had just enacted between him and his erstwhile brother in the faith.

I myself have explored this possibility of ritual healing in several articles over the years, wondering in particular whether the "healing of memories" of divided Christians can be effected, in part, through liturgy. As I have written about that over the years, it has long remained unclear to me exactly how a vague psychological phrase can be enacted among millions of people in a collective like the Church. Most of the exploration of "healing of memories" has taken place from the theology side, with little contribution from psychological, liturgical, or ritual studies--until now. Set for release later this month is a work from the psychiatrist Erik D. Goodwyn, Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2016), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
Ritual scholars note that rituals have powerful psychological, social and even biological effects, but these findings have not yet been integrated into the practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry. In Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy Erik D. Goodwyn attempts to rectify this by reviewing the most pertinent work done in the area of ritual study and applying it to the practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry, providing a new framework with which to approach therapy. The book combines ritual study with depth psychology, placebo study, biogenetic structuralism and cognitive anthropology to create a model of interdisciplinary psychology.
Goodwyn uses examples of rituals from history, folklore and cross-cultural study and uncovers the universal themes embedded within them as well as their psychological functions. As ritual scholars show time and again how Western culture and medicine is ‘ritually impoverished’ the application of ritual themes to therapy yields many new avenues for healing. The interdisciplinary model used here suggests new ways to approach problems with basic identity, complicated grief, anxiety, depression meaninglessness and a host of other problems encountered in clinical work.
The interdisciplinary approach of this accessibly-written book will appeal to psychotherapists, psychiatrists and Jungian analysts as well as those in training and readers with an interest in the science behind ritual.
The publisher also gives us the table of contents:
Part 1: Foundations. The Study of Ritual – Depth Psychology and Symbolic Anthropology. The Interdisciplinary Approach to Ritual. Part 2: The Dynamic Interdisciplinary Approach. Biological—Mind/Body Interactions. Cognitive—Cognitive Anthropology and Psychological Resonance. Psychodynamic—Projection, Narrative, Meaningful Coincidence and Dissociation. Cultural – Structures and Functions. Part 3: Applications. Magical Inscriptions. Healing Rituals. Transitional Rituals. Death. Part 4: Conclusions. The Technology of Ritual and the Ritual Expert. Summary. Afterword.

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