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Ceremony Matters

Ceremony Matters

By Contributor

“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert


The use of rituals and ceremony is as old as humanity itself. Ceremonies exist across all cultures, so the purpose of ceremonies satisfy a basic need in our shared human experience. RedCliff Ascent makes use of ceremonies in two important ways. First, RedCliff uses ceremony to validate the personal growth that we see in students and staff. Second, we ceremony to encourage people to continue to grow and change.

At RedCliff we say, “Ceremony gives inner experiences an outer form.” When people participate in a ceremony, they are better able to internalize the growth that they have experienced. By “owning” the changes that they have made in their lives, they are encouraged to continue making more changes.


Connecting with Troubled Teens

“A ceremony is a way for that individual to make sense of that transition and to know that it is happening… In our ceremonies, we always start with a moment of awareness. For each individual that is part of the ceremony, whether [the ceremony] is based around about them or not, it’s an opportunity for them to really become aware of themselves and how they influence everyone in their group and how their group influences them and just create a stronger awareness of their surrounding environment.”

— Justin Swensen


Using ceremonies and rituals can be especially helpful when working with troubled teens. Often times, teens are not aware of the source of their distress, let alone the ways that their own behaviors contribute to their distress. Many teens lack the emotional development to understand their situation. Without this understanding, it is very difficult for teens to change and grow.

This lack of emotional awareness can show up in a teen’s behavior as a form of resistance. For example, by making the teen immune to logical discussions or unwilling to consider any point of view other than the teen’s own. This resistant attitude can make traditional forms of talk therapy difficult, if not impossible.

That is why ceremony is invaluable. When teens participate in a ceremony, that experience is able to reach them on a deeper emotional level than talk therapy. Rituals and ceremonies make a difference. That is why we use these tools at RedCliff Ascent.

Reconnecting Families

Even after teens have worked hard and changed, they can have difficulty putting their experiences into words. This does not mean that the change not been meaningful. The difficulty in communicating could be because their experiences have meant so much to them.

Talking about a ceremony can help teens express their experiences. Teens might have difficulty in expressing how they came to love themselves, but they will be able to describe the ritual in which their group gathered to welcome them. They might not be able to put into words how they have changed, but they can talk about a ceremony where they honored with a new name because their peers, staff, and therapist recognized that they had grown out of the person that they used to be.

In addition, in most of the ceremonies at RedCliff, students are given a token. This token is a physical reminder of the changes that students have made in their lives. It is also a means of starting a conversation with their loved ones.


Over the next five weeks, this blog will feature information about ceremonies and elements of ritual that we use at RedCliff Ascent. Please continue reading to find out more.