Therapy as a Sacred Ritual

Japanese bridgeTherapy as a sacred ritual might sound a bit pompous to some. After all, therapy is often considered something of a “have to,” not a “want to.” I would like to consider that therapy is something other than a way out of struggle, depression, and pain. My clients teach me each week that something beautiful is explored, born, or manifested in our weekly get-togethers. As they make their weekly voyage to therapy, they pledge to themselves the opportunity to discover the full range of their experience.

Like a good cup of coffee in the morning, therapy is like a morning jog-so-you-can-get-going kind of ritual. Whether writing morning pages in our journals to scribe our thoughts, or pulling the garden vegetables from the earth for tonight’s dinner, therapy has its place in our lives. It is like sacred nourishment for our soul. It is a commitment to understanding ourselves more intimately, completely, and thoroughly, by doing our weekly sit-in with our therapist.

As my clients cross the threshold of becoming, I see the meaning therapy has become to them and the rituals that they encounter.

Setting the Stage
Upon making the first appointment, it has begun. The ritual begins with a friendly, “Hi, how are you.” The client’s “call” embarks on finding a therapist who will see, feel, and hear them most authentically. They seek to connect their experience with someone who will honor and embrace them. Testing the waters, they may begin with a brief explanation of their story in a “give and take” sort of fashion until a connection is made. Upon feeling a spark, the conversation deepens, which consummates an appointment. This reciprocal dance begins the sacred ritual of setting the stage of meeting, time, and place.

Entering Sacred Space
After arriving, entering the room, closing the door, and with sacred agreements signed, both the client and I begin entering into the depth of what will be shared and discovered. While sitting in front of me and releasing the tension, the client intimately begins the next ritual. The sacred opportunity to be fully seen, heard, and felt has begun. Time and space become a blessed opportunity away from tiring commitments, chores, and obligations. There is sacredness in saying the unsaid and feeling the unfelt before me as their therapist. A trust begins to unfurl as the holy journey to revealing and expanding is explored. Highs and lows, struggles and gains, celebrations and sorrows are all fruit for the harvesting. As my clients explore the depths of their experience, I enter my role of providing safety, empathy, and challenge. Each week, building on the last session, the client and I meet with a greeting and enter into sacred space.

Bridging the Gap
Often clients enter therapy with some blockage to unravel, relationship to untangle, or goal to achieve. As we work through the existing sludge to get to the other side of their desire, I notice that my role vacillates among many. The roles of mentor, educator, and guide work many vantage points to include inner-child work, adult development, and familial understanding. The gap of our work together contracts and expands as we discern emotional terrain, physical symptoms, and insight. Weekly, as we deepen, each of these becomes a sacred practice. Commitment to healing, commitment to knowing, and commitment to discovery become not only tasks, but a revered journey. Our deepening relationship begins to transform, soften, and deepen. There is a sacredness in the reciprocity and trust which now gather their place at the altar of unfolding.

Packing Up
As the merger of relationship between the client and therapist expands and deepens within the context of an hour, there must be time to choose the “take with” nuggets of insight and knowledge gained. Much like camping in the park, we sort through, pack up, and continue our journey back to the familiar. Reflecting, we ponder the sacred meaning of this particular hour. The client and I ask ourselves, “What did we learn?” We take a look back and gather threads of awareness and pieces of clarity as we seek to create meaning of this experience. Moments are given to encapsulate the importance of the discovery by way of closing statements, new visions, and take-home assignments. As the hour quickly ends, the door opens and we say our goodbyes. The sacred journey ends and begins with hope and uncertainty as we look forward to unfolding, yet again, what is to become of our meeting together.

Related articles:
Healing Through Expressive Arts Therapy
Therapy for Self Growth

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, MFTI, therapist in San Francisco, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • joel

    joel

    April 18th, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    In my years in and out of therapy I have developed a relationship with my own therapist that keeps me feeling safe a grounded. He is always not just kind and gentle, but listens with no ulterior motive other that listening to what is going on with me and helping me resolve the never ending merry go round of issues that I bring with me. I would hope that for him he has taken this as a learning experience too, and not just as another paying client. And that is what he has always made it feel like, like our time together is not an imposition on him, but instead a time for him to help me work through all my baggage, but a time for him to reflect on how to better help me as well as other patients. I would hope that everyone be able to find an individual like this in their own lives whom they know that they can rely upon.

  • Asheton

    Asheton

    April 18th, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Have to be honest by admitting that I have never thought of therapy as a need, but more as a want, something that we might like to do but don’t necessarily need to do. I mean, I am in good health, mentally and physically, so why would I need it? But I have to say that this intrigues me, that some find this as their little piece of saving grace, so maybe this will encourage me to try it out for myself. Never hurts to have someone take a listen, right?

  • Douglas

    Douglas

    April 18th, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    Dear Asheton,

    Yes, you are right! Go with that.

  • Douglas

    Douglas

    April 18th, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Dear Joel,

    I appreciate and respect your thoughtful comments. Your view of the relationship with your therapist is a “Good” one and I’m sure he learns from you, too. :)

  • yolanda

    yolanda

    April 19th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    I know that therapy can be a very good thing for any of us, as we all have our little cobwebs to muddle through. But at some point I have to find the strength to go it alone, and if it is a ritual of sorts, is this something that I will be able to let go of when the time is right?

  • Douglas

    Douglas

    April 19th, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Dear Yolanda,

    Therapy as a sacred ritual is not meant to feel like a crutch or a dependency, it’s really a matter of choice. You will determine when the time is ripe, yet if you struggle with this, then tell your therapist. It’s all fruit for the harvesting and a good question, too!

  • yolanda

    yolanda

    April 19th, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    Thanks for that Douglas. I guess I get kind of afraid that I will become dependent on something that will not always be there for me, you know? Calling it a crutch is exactly what I was thinking but did not know how to describe it. I just want to make sure that I can do the whole therapy thing and get something out of it but not have to rely on tose weekly meetings for life. I want to be able to stand on my own and do the right things. I think that this would be a step in the right direction but it is always hardest to make that first step.

  • Bryan Reynolds

    Bryan Reynolds

    April 19th, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    Therapy can help you rid yourself of ailments in your psyche and can help you see yourself better while letting you walk after you have taken a fall.So there is nothing wrong in calling it a sacred ritual.Kudos to all those who help us in these rituals with all their attention,time, effort and empathy. Thank you.

  • Douglas

    Douglas

    April 20th, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Dear Bryan,

    I agree and it makes for good therapy, better.

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