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Prince, R. (1975). Symbols and Psychotherapy: The Example of Yoruba Sacrificial Ritual. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 3(3):321-338.

(1975). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 3(3):321-338

Symbols and Psychotherapy: The Example of Yoruba Sacrificial Ritual

Raymond Prince

In attempting to explain the healing power of ritual in psychotherapy, two important, competing explanations have been offered. On the one hand, psychoanalytic writers have tended to see ritual actions as symbols of important unconscious conflicts. Freud (1920), for example, said that sacrifice, which figures prominently in many healing ceremonies, represents the murder of the father by his rebellious sons; Roheim (1954) interpreted the flight of the shaman to the world of spirits to recover the lost soul of the patient as representing sexual arousal, (an association that western neurotic patients often make to their dreams of flying). On the other hand, many authors believe that the healing power of ritual lies more in the area of reassurance and the generation of conviction: healing ritual is important because it dramatically confirms the world view shared by the healer and the patient; the illness is shown to make sense in the context of that culture's particular healing myths and, equally important, the ritual demonstrates that proper curative steps are being taken.


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