Therapeutic Use Of Family Rituals
Family rituals have been a form of therapeutic intervention used by family therapists since the 1970s and by human culture at large for a millennia (Imber-Black, Roberts, and Whiting 1988; van der Hart 1983). Family ritual settings, such as dinnertime, can be capitalized on for implementing behavioral interventions. In this regard, the practice of a ritual in its naturally occurring environment is paired with desirable behaviors. Increasing positive interactions during mealtimes have been found to decrease undesirable behavior in children with disabilities (Lucyshyn, Albin, and Nixon 1997) and facilitate good nutrition in infants with failure-to-thrive (Yoos, Kitzman, and Cole 1999).
Couples therapists examine past and current ritual practices to aid in understanding how couples perceive their problems and how they may best address disagreements (Imber-Black 1988). Through a consultation interview, the degree to which couples have either given up or ignored meaningful rituals may illustrate how the couple has lost touch with each other and are in need of a revitalized relationship. The renewal of wedding vows, deliberate planning of a vacation, and creating a ritual to facilitate forgiveness and healing are examples of therapeutic rituals.
Therapeutic rituals have also been used during the transitions associated with remarriage. Maintaining regular routines in divorced and remarried families may foster better adaptation in children, providing them with a sense of security and stability of family life (Henry and Lovelace 1995). As children are faced with moving in with a new parent and siblings, the role of previous rituals may become particularly poignant. How to celebrate holidays and birthdays and even how regular meals are to be conducted is subject to change. Therapeutic interventions in this case may include an assessment of how rituals were practiced in the past and how different aspects of rituals may be taken from each family (Whiteside 1988).