Medical Scientists Reveal the Secrets Behind the Power of Rituals in Self-Healing

Christian Burgos
January 25, 2023

Medical Scientists Reveal the Secrets Behind the Power of Rituals in Self-Healing

Why are rituals essential for self-healing? Are there any scientifically proven rituals to enhance self-healing? In this article we’ll explore the mysteries behind the health benefits of ritual practices.  

The Key Role of Rituals in Medicine History

Ancient rock art depictions of healing rituals indicate that the practice of healing dates back to the beginning of human history. [1] It appears that societies have always assigned certain people the responsibility of interacting with the spirit realm and curing physical or mental disorders throughout various cultures and civilizational stages. [2] These healers have been referred to throughout history as shamans, seers, medicine people, and priests. 

These early practitioners of psychotherapy employed techniques such as chanting, dances, and confessionals to assist individuals in resolving their daily issues. [3] What do all of these techniques have in common? They all involved some kind of rituals behind it. 

Fast forward to the present, and ritual sciences has established itself as a distinctive subject of study. Rituals are now a trending subject between academics from various disciplines who wish to understand the true benefits they may have on self-healing. [4]

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Why Are Rituals a Must for Self-Healing?

The theory that rituals can start the process of self-healing is one that is gaining more and more traction, and it is based on the idea that humans have the power to heal themselves. According to researchers, healing can occur on three different levels: [5]

Autonomous healing, which is the capacity of humans for self-healing 
Active therapy, which hastens the healing process
The therapeutic act itself. The performative efficacy of the act, as it is known by many anthropologists, leads to healing on the third level. 

Many anthropologists argue that the way a therapy is performed leads to healing on the third level and has a close connection to the placebo effect phenomena. Ted J. Kaptchuk, an anthropologist from Harvard Medical School, claims that in some circumstances, the special drama of therapeutic rituals may have "increased" placebo effects. [6

In a study, researchers sought to clarify the connection between religion and healing, specifically in light of the occurrence of ritual healing. They discovered that ritual's clinical effectiveness can be sustained by evoking the ideas of self-healing and the placebo effect. Thus, a ritual’s effectiveness is based on how it is performed rather than on whether or not its meaning can be decoded by ritual participants or theologically encoded by experts. [4]

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Scientifically Proven Ritual for Self-Healing

Doctors are currently attempting to implement therapeutic techniques utilized by various religions and cultures to help people heal in a rapid fashion. One of the methods that caught the attention of Israeli clinical/medical psychologist Uri Wernik was the addition of prayer beads in his psychotherapies. 

In a series of case studies Dr. Wernik described how prayer beads can be employed as a different and successful delivery method to assist people replace negative thinking with positive thinking. The patients described in his study were going through tough varied life time experiences including:

1. A tough breakup
2. Homicidal thoughts of her child
3. Sexual impotence

During Dr. Wernik’s therapies, his patients were asked to select colors for their beads to symbolize a concept or assertion they want to internalize. Then, both of them work together to write sentences which the patient would repeat as they go through the beads. 

In this study, Dr. Wernik found that using prayer beads results in the patient experiencing a relaxed condition that increases openness to new thoughts, much like while meditating. It is only conceivable that the ritual use of beads helps to make verbalization performative—that is, the client is engaging in physical activity and focusing on a material object while repeating the predefined concepts. [7

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In A Nutshell

After reviewing data on the connection between rituals and healing, we’ve come to the conclusion that rituals are nothing but necessary to ensure a therapeutic effect on any medical practice available today. The implementation of rituals dates back to human’s origin, and it's still seen in today’s medical practices. Lastly, the effectiveness of the rites depends on how they are conducted rather than on how well the participants understand the meaning of the rites.

What’s your favorite ritual to incite self-healing? Join us today and learn more about how to unleash your true potential from our panel of experts at Athena InsideOut Education.

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[1] Clottes, J., & Lewis-Williams, D. (1998). The shamans of prehistory: Trance and magic in painted caves. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

[2] Viebsky, P. (1995). The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon. Duncan Baird.

[3] Torrey, E.F. (1972). The mind game: Witchdoctors and psychiatrists. New York: Bantam. Wyrostok, N. (1995). The ritual as a psychotherapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 32, 397–404.

[4] Kwan, S. S. M. (2007). Clinical efficacy of ritual healing and pastoral ministry. Pastoral Psychology, 55(6), 741-749.

[5] Moerman, D. E. (1981). Edible symbols: The effectiveness of placebos. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 364(1), 256-268.

[6] Kaptchuk, T. J. (2002). The placebo effect in alternative medicine: can the performance of a healing ritual have clinical significance?. Annals of internal medicine, 136(11), 817-825.

[7] Wernik, U. (2009). The use of prayer beads in psychotherapy. Mental Health, Religion and Culture, 12(4), 359-368.