Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Irma Shepherd

Second Advisor

Ray Craddick

Third Advisor

Carole Hill

Fourth Advisor

Joen Fagan


The thesis of this dissertation was that the ritual process may be incorporated into psychotherapy to evoke altered states of consciousness (ASC's) that in turn may lead to positive therapeutic results. The objectives were to expand and clarify the conceptual basis for the use of ritually induced ASC's in psychotherapy, to summarize ways that ritual is used in psychotherapy, to identify key elements associated with the effective use of ritual, and to propose a way ritual may use these elements in psychotherapy to evoke ASC's conducive to change.

Anthropological literature was reviewed for definition, functions, and stages of ritual. When compared, ritual and psychotherapy shared many commonalities, but differed largely because therapy was guided by an ethic promoting individual self-fulfillment and rationality while ritual often was not.

Current uses of ritual in psychotherapy were explored by surveying published literature and by structured interviews with 10 therapists currently using ritual. Both the literature and the interviews support the belief that ritual can be used with positive therapeutic results in a variety of ways and with different types of clients.

It was suggested that while ASC's can be an important in changing belief systems, they do not by themselves consistently promote positive and useful changes. However, when ASC's occur within the support of the therapeutic relationship, elements commonly associated with ritual can be used to structure and integrate experiences in ASC's so that changes are more likely to be both therapeutic and enduring. From the survey of the literature and the interviews, key elements associated with effective use of ritual in psychotherapy were identified. These included: a strong therapeutic relationship, meaningful symbols and actions, faith in the therapist, purposefulness, separation, enactment, heightened emotionality, concentration, involvement of others, and, in addition, multisensory presentation of stimuli in a dramatic, repetitive, controlled, and overlapping manner. Incorporation of these elements into psychotherapy was considered and a technique which involves enactment of personal symbols was designed to use these elements to induce ASC's.


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