Ancient and Modern Ritual: A Creative Approach to Working with Grief, Loss, and Change

Sometimes, the prevailing model of talk therapy doesn’t work. What do we do when a loss is so deep that it defies verbal expression? There is evidence that the brain stores trauma in areas that bypass speech,1 and anyone who’s experienced a deep shock can attest to this. Creative therapies expand our options beyond words by inviting expression from the whole spirit-mind-body and its array of senses. Creative therapies are evidence-based healing methods based in the expressive arts and include ritual therapy, drama therapy, visual arts, dance, narrative, and music therapies. In this article, I will introduce ritual therapy and show how and why it is effective as a treatment for grief. I will offer some ways anyone can begin to practice ritual to ease bereavement, I’ll talk about culturally specific models of grief work, and will include resources for professional counselors who might want to incorporate this therapeutic intervention.

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