Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy: A Ritual Approach by Erik D. Goodwyn

Ritual scholars note that rituals have powerful psychological, social and even biological effects, but these findings have not yet been integrated into the practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry. In Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy Erik D. Goodwyn attempts to rectify this by reviewing the most pertinent work done in the area of ritual study and applying it to the practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry, providing a new framework with which to approach therapy. The book combines ritual study with depth psychology, placebo study, biogenetic structuralism and cognitive anthropology to create a model of interdisciplinary psychology.

Goodwyn uses examples of rituals from history, folklore and cross-cultural study and uncovers the universal themes embedded within them as well as their psychological functions. As ritual scholars show time and again how Western culture and medicine is ‘ritually impoverished’ the application of ritual themes to therapy yields many new avenues for healing. The interdisciplinary model used here suggests new ways to approach problems with basic identity, complicated grief, anxiety, depression meaninglessness and a host of other problems encountered in clinical work.

The interdisciplinary approach of this accessibly-written book will appeal to psychotherapists, psychiatrists and Jungian analysts as well as those in training and readers with an interest in the science behind ritual.


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‘Erik Goodwyn is prominent among that small but growing band of psychologists who use an evolutionary perspective to build a unifying science of humanity. In this encyclopaedic compilation of insights, derived from an impressive variety of sources, Goodwyn demonstrates how the therapeutic power of ancient ritual practices can be mobilized by modern clinicians, whether they be psychotherapists, physicians or psychiatrists. Through ritual, Goodwyn shows us, we can activate phylogenetic structures as old as our species and summon their limitless resources to our aid.’ – Anthony Stevens: author of Archetype Revisited: An Updated Natural History of The Self

Erik Goodwyn has delivered a definitive piece on ritual. The book provides a fascinating and erudite tour-de-force that bridges depth psychology and anthropology, drawing also upon biology and cognitive science, so as to explore the many layers of its topic. The author deftly pulls together these diverse sources of information towards building an integrative conceptual framework. The narrative is well-informed and informative. Goodwyn’s engaging style makes it highly accessible, a pleasure to read.’ – Raya Jones, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK

‘In place of rituals that once pulsed with our blood and breathed with our breath, today we accumulate facts, information, procedures. We are not even sure what they all add up to. At the end of the work day, we addictively shop, consume, imbibe drugs, scan the internet – in search of something greater and more enduring. Meaning is the pattern that connects, and Dr. Erik Goodwyn would have us live more meaningful lives by understanding and accessing the timeless and archetypal patterns carried by rituals. Ritual, he argues, links the conscious mind with unconscious processes, critical because our self-conscious purposiveness lacks the evolutionary wisdom to which unconscious processes still have access.  This book considers questions such as: How might we more effectively initiate teenagers into adulthood, women into menopause, patients struggling with the journey of dying? How is it that the “placebo effect” works – often more powerfully than the active ingredient in prescribed drugs – and how could ritual harness that power?  How might healing words replace technical jargon in doctor/patient encounters? Goodwyn explores dozens of such scenarios, applying research from the fertile intersection of anthropology and psychology. The results are fascinating and highly valuable for anyone in the healing or helping professions.’ – Jerry M. Ruhl Ph.D., depth psychologist, co-author of Living Your Unlived Life

‘Drawing on a ‘web of interaction’ between biology, psychology and culture, Erik Goodwyn creates an inspiring interdisciplinary theoretical model for ritual in clinical practice. Arguing that rituals are an overlooked resource, Goodwyn brings together the skills of a perceptive clinician with ritual scholarship to reveal deep insights about a therapeutic process that has its roots in the very origins of humankind. Focusing on placebo effects, ‘psychological resonance’, and a wide range of cultural effects, he opens up and explores how they can be reintroduced into psychotherapeutic healing. This is an original work of the utmost importance, it gets to the heart of human soul, and it will change lives.’ – Dr Susan Greenwood, past lecturer and Senior Research Fellow, University of Sussex, UK

About the Author

Erik D. Goodwyn, M.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of psychotherapy training at the University of Louisville, USA. He was an officer in the Air Force for seven years, during which time he cared for patients from both military and civilian backgrounds. He has published articles in the fields of psychology of religion, psychodynamic theory and spirituality in mental health, and his previous books include The Neurobiology of the Gods (Routledge, 2012) and, with Susan Greenwood, Magical Consciousness: An Anthropological and Neurobiological Approach (Routledge, 2016) .

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