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Family Traditions and Rituals

            When providing family therapy services, it is important to understand how a family system functions. An important assessment of this is the presence or absence of rituals. Rituals in families have many purposes. They can tell us how people relate to one another, what rituals are used to help the family heal, how people identify themselves and accept change, what families believe and how families celebrate.

            It is also important to understand the parts of a ritual. People can use symbols that are meaningful to them, and with these symbols, there is a symbolic action to carry out the ritual. A symbol can have structured parts and/or open parts. Rituals can be carried out in a special time and/or a special place.

            There are also types of rituals such as those we do on a daily basis. These rituals can be simple and spontaneous or very intentional and unique. There are lots of possibilities to change these kinds of rituals. Some examples of daily rituals include saying grace at dinner or where people sit at the dinner table. Another example of a daily ritual is how people say goodbye to each other or how they greet each other. A third example is what happens during bedtime with children.

            The second type of ritual is family traditions. These are the family days that are written on calendars. Others outside of the family may not recognize the time and space of these family traditions, and the people within the family usually go to work or school on these days. Families can have flexibility with these family traditions. Examples of these rituals include birthdays and anniversaries. It is important to ask people if there are cakes, special dinners or parties with people outside the immediate family.

            The third category is family holiday celebrations which can be complicated, because the media and culture and dictate how people “should” celebrate. There is often much pressure on families during these rituals. These are the rituals that are already stamped on a calendar such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.

            The last category of rituals is the life-cycle rituals. These are the rituals that help people pass through life. They help to mark the beginning and ending of relationships. Examples of these are births, deaths and funerals, and weddings.

            Counselors and therapists of family therapy services help families whose rituals are minimized, interrupted or unflexible. Therefore, the best family therapy techniques will consider what the family’s ideal rituals and traditions may be, and how the members can be returned to celebrate them once again.

Dr. Judy DeTrude is licensed in Texas as a Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and is an Authorized Supervisor for each of the licenses.


            Black, Evan Imber and Roberts, Janine (1998). Rituals for our times: Healing and changing our lives and relationships. Jason Aronson, Inc.

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