Khulisa Deep Dive Series: Ritual

In the first two parts of this blog series, we looked broadly at what dramatherapy is, both as a discipline and in practical terms. Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a deeper look at some of the core principles of Dramatherapy, using non-technical terms as far as possible, and exploring how these contribute to empowering and guiding Khulisa’s programme participants.

The word ritual can be interpreted many ways, depending on our personal beliefs, habits or routines. It can have a religious interpretation – a Bat/Bar Mitzvah, a Roman Catholic genuflection, the Islamic Wudu – but ritual is not defined only by religion.

When we think back to our childhood, there may be a memory of a routine that your mother or father performed regularly – perhaps something as simple as coming to tuck you in and say goodnight every evening. This routine is performed in a specific manner, at a certain time, for a particular intent or purpose – and in this way it becomes a ritual. The purpose of the Wudu is to ensure the participant is purified before prayer; the genuflection’s intent is to acknowledge the whole body is engaged in the presence of God; and the purpose of being tucked in at night is to mark the end of the day, and let the child know they are safe, and loved.

Importantly, there is an element of transition at the heart of all rituals – whether it be the purification following ritual cleansing, the change from child to adolescent marked by the Bat/Bar Mitzvah, or the changeover from the family weekend to the working week which is often represented in the UK by a Sunday roast dinner.

There is a wide and fascinating body of literature devoted to cultural studies of ritual, and the collective power they can have. Humans have ritual hard-wired into our belief systems – since the beginning of time we have marked change by performing rituals, and in turn used rituals to bring about desired change.

Drama itself could be said to be born out of ritual – in Poetics, Aristotle said that Greek tragedy was developed from the ‘dithyramb’ – the ritual ceremony and dance performed in honour of Dionysus. Dramatherapy therefore recognises the transformational possibilities of ritual, and depending on the individual client, this can be represented and explored in infinite ways.

"It’s vitally important for our participants to know that they are welcome, they are safe and they will be listened to, no matter what is said – so we create a ritual around it."

In Khulisa’s programmes, as we explored in the last blog, we hold a safe space for our young people to bring however they are feeling into the room. At the beginning of every session across the 3 or 5-day programme, we have a ‘check-in’, – a chance for each group member to say a word, a sentence or even just a sound to express how they are in that moment. While that one person speaks, they hold a “talking-piece” – an object that symbolises they have this opportunity for their voice to be heard without any interruption. This talking-piece is then passed on to the next person who wishes to speak and be heard. This small ritual is performed in a specific manner (holding and passing the talking-piece), at a specific time (beginning of morning or afternoon sessions), for a certain purpose (to signal that the participant has a voice, is welcome to use it, and will be heard). Once the check-in is over, the work for that session begins – again, the ritual symbolises a transition from one state to another, and helps represent the possibility of change. After the session, we also have a ritual check-out, which is performed in the same way, and serves the purpose of containing the emotional work of that session, and helps the participant safely transition back into the school, prison or their daily routine.

All of the elements in Khulisa’s Face It and Silence the Violence programmes are extensively researched and developed to benefit our participants and ensure they feel safe. Using small rituals in our programmes helps our participants feel comfortable, listened to and empowered.

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