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Rhythm, ritual and the therapeutic hour

Updated: Mar 26


When people begin therapy, it can be hard to accept that appointments need to be at the same time and place each week. The emphasis on regularity and frequency can feel rigid and inflexible. Undoubtably convenience is a factor but it’s not the whole story. Rhythm and routine are closely connected to how we internalise experience. We learn new ways of relating most effectively experientially rather than cognitively. The therapeutic relationship is contained by a ritual which demands a regular time commitment involving two bodies in a room together. Jungian analyst, Michael Fordham saw bodily experience as crucial in the development of new thinking. An infant cannot distinguish thoughts (mental representations) from bodily experience  (Fordham, 1985). Similarly when adults are stressed, they also struggle with knowing why they feel the way they do. So calming the body is the first step towards making sense of what we are feeling physiologically. Rhythm is a time honoured way of helping us regulate our emotions. Rhythmic movement is well known to be soothing. Music is unique in that it brings together mind and body in a sensually powerful way. A reliable, attuned therapist paying you attention as well as the rhythm of weekly sessions is important in supporting the process of emotional self regulating. As the little prince says when meeting the fox in ‘The Little Prince’. ‘When I know I’m going to see you at 5 o clock, my heart gets ready at 4 o clock’ (Saint- Exupery, 1944/95: p79).

     The rhythm of the analytic setting is also a metronome for the therapist which facilitates the attunement so necessary for the process. A regular appointment then becomes the backdrop that allows for freedom within the session. Improvisation and creativity become   possible when we are able to internalise and take for granted a therapeutic routine.

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