Living in Stories: Embodiment in therapy through Liturgical Practice by Chad Loftis

A lawsuit against Bullying, a funeral for Joy, an induction into the Society of Mad Dragon Trainers – what do they have in common? They’re all forms of Liturgical Practice. In this presentation, Chad shares some stories about his use of ceremony and ritual – what he calls Liturgical Practice – in therapy and introduces some of the thinkers and ideas that have informed this work.

Chad is a Narrative therapist working in Thailand and throughout Asia with expats, NGO workers and missionaries. He also works alongside an anti-trafficking team in Thailand. He grew up in Melbourne but is married to a Coloradan. They have four children together.



Click here to view the handout for this Friday Afternoon video.

Click here for Chad’s slideshow presentation.

Published April 29, 2016



This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Donal Keane

    Hi Chad,
    I am interested in the way you make the problem story Bad .Like the dragon that needed to be tamed and anxiety who had to stay outside the door at the funeral for joy.
    I remember being at some anger management classes and feeling sad at how anger was seen as a part that somehow benefited from being controlled rather than heard.
    I remember suggesting to the leader at the time that I felt our angry self had more need to be welcomed into the room than our peaceful self and that I felt we needed to find compassion for our angry selves and actually connect fully with this part of ourselves where so much power and joy and creativity is often stuck.
    I still feel that making aspects of ourselves wrong or bad is only compounding the problem and only adds to the frustration .
    However I do really love narrative therapy and this joy funeral was an obvious success as the lady found her voice .

  2. Linda Bush

    Hello Chad. Thank you for your inspiring examples of integrating liturgical practice into narrative therapy. I love how you use different types of ceremony. It is very appealing to me as a MFT therapist-in-training. Coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, I wonder about how the narrative therapist helps the client who views “truth” as a series of nonfiction biblical stories, or sees truth residing within a literal interpretation of biblical narratives. Can a reframed story shatter their perception of not just their Christian faith, but also of reality as they have come to believe it exists for them?

    1. Chad Loftis

      Hey Linda! Thanks for this question. I think the question of how deconstructive conversations (sort of like reframing) like Narrative therapists love to have are received by or effect people with strong faith is a really important one. Personally, I am not interested in shattering anyone’s faith or their sense of reality – these are usually dep wells from which they can draw. Rather, I’m interested in helping them form new categories or even making some “extensions” to their current understanding of themselves and how they fit into the world. I’ve found that, when I am respectful and cautious, I can have deconstructing conversations that don’t threaten people’s treasured values or beliefs but do influence them.
      It is also important, when using rituals or ceremonies to make sure they fit in with what is familiar to the person or connects with their view of the world. The symbols and rites we use are very shaping of our sense of reality so I wouldn’t want to “shatter” anyone’s perceptions by pressuring them into a ritual that doesn’t fit either. I hope that makes sense and answers your question!

  3. Chelsea Summerlot

    I really appreciated all of the different types of ceremonies you mentioned in your video! This work opens up a whole new avenue when working with clients allowing for creativity and fostering empowerment! I’ve been learning a lot about externalizing the problem; the externalizing of Jennifer’s anxious thoughts as a thug was helpful in continuing to understand the language and questioning. I also was able to hear the grand narratives surrounding Jennifer and the liberation received through the mourning ceremony. Thank you for sharing your work; it was extremely helpful for me as a beginning therapist intern!

  4. Thurman Stanton II

    Your stories and reflection were inspiring. To combine ritual and ceremony with the narrative is a force that can’t be reckoned with. The ceremony of dimming lights and closing the shades so that clients will be able to focus on their stories is a mind-blower. I want to personally thank you for the work that you do and how you incorporate a different form of therapy. Now I know for sure that there are no artistic limitations for inducing the comfortability of clients who need to quiet themselves for a life changing experience. Thank you again.

  5. Barbara Weatherspoon

    As a new student to Narrative therapy, I have had minimal exposure to the ways Narrative methods may be used. I appreciated the ways you integrtaed Ritual with various types of clients and concerns as well the integration of theology.
    As a person who served as an overseas church worker, I was drawn to how ritual can open up new stories not only at the micro level of relationships but also at the macro level through impacting the dominant discourse. I began to think about how ritual and symbolism brought together people in the Philippines through their brave and prophetic stand of “criticism” that would energize and open up an emerging theology of struggle. Two symbols come to mind as I remember mass gatherings – a clenched fist directed up and not out toward one another. And the lighting of candles in the dark, with a theme of “those who would give light must endure burning”. I can see how the various ceremonies you highlighted were a part of the ongoing process of change in a culture as well as a country.
    As I dared to integrate back to US culture, it was a challenge! I suspect this is the case for many who live and move in a different culture for any lengthy period of time. I think your Ceremony of Mourning has implications for so many in a world that is so full of grief and greiving people.
    Thank you taking the time to share your very rich Narrative experiences and gifts. Mabuhay!

  6. Jessica Foster

    I so appreciate your talk! Integrating faith into counseling can be difficult, but when we think about rituals and ceremonies it starts to sound like definitional ceremonies (like Dr. Coyle addressed). As someone who works with children, I love the Society of Mad Dragon Trainers and induction ceremony that you describe. Creativity is key when working with children. The ceremony of objection with Smith vs. Bullying is such a great idea! How powerful! I have never thought about liturgies as daily ceremonies that tell us how the world works, similar to dominant discourses. As someone who believes that people are spiritual beings this integration of spirituality and narrative therapy is so significant in finding healing and making meaning of different life situations. Your work sounds fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Nicole Navarra

    Hello Chad! Thank you so much for sharing your presentation regarding Living in Stories: Embodiment in Therapy through Liturgical Practice. There were a couple key points throughout your presentation that resonated with me. For instance, I loved the quote that you attached to cultural liturgies. You recited James. K. A. Smith., “We live into stories we’ve absorbed; we become characters in the drama that has captivated us.” This makes perfect sense to me. As individuals, we choose to make daily stories about how the world works or how it “should” work. You state that it is not so much about our minds, but more so, about bodies and imaginations. I also loved listening to Jennifer’s story. You help her separate her anxious thoughts by giving her permission to grieve. I also found it interesting because (from my experience as a therapist thus far) my clients tend to believe that it is not okay to feel a certain way due to their “outer image” (being well off, feeling like the world would view them as unbecoming for complaining). However, that is not always the case. Giving your clients permission to grieve opens new doors to endless possibilities for them. I like how you chose to engage Jennifer in morning rituals to grieve about these losses instead of bottling them up. Thank you for your creativity and perspective on this topic. It has given me a lot of perspective about narrative therapy and liturgical practices.

  8. Donna M. Marino

    Really fascinating integration of narrative therapy and liturgical rituals. As I think about my own personal theology and religious upbringing, on a deeply personal level, rituals and tradition are part of what keeps me in my Catholic faith. I have found that the symbolic and ritualistic aspects of Mass are part of what’s important to me, in my worship and spiritual journey. I had never really considered it as part of therapy (although I have taken part in developing my own {non-therapeutic} rituals during times of healing; grieving and moving past hurt. Watching how you integrated the narrative stories woven in each of the presenting cases – The Dragon Bullying and Joy was fascinating and how you engaged all and others in doing so. The idea that we are “imagination” beings vs. “thinking” beings, is also of fascination and made me ponder the level of creativity and conceptualization that goes into externalizing the problem, in narrative therapy. Clearly you have to be able to assess and understand your client(s) willingness to go there and move through the process, towards healing and in your cited examples, each were successful. I can see how the process can be healing, cathartic and transformational. Thank you for the creativity and showing the application of liturgical practices in narrative therapy.

  9. Guirlene T. Durosier

    Hi Chad,

    Thank you so much for the presentation on Living in Stories: Embodiment in Therapy through Liturgical Practice. I enjoyed how you shared some stories about ceremony and ritual. I like how you illustrated about A lawsuit against Bullying, a funeral of Joy, and an induction into the Society of Mad Dragon Trainers. I now understand why they are all forms of Liturgical Practice.

  10. Suzanne Coyle

    Your talk resonated with me as I reflected on the many years of believing myself that liturgical practice is reminiscent of Michael White’s definitional ceremonies. As a professor at a progressive ecumenical seminary (some would say that’s not possible), I have seen students and clients experience a re-authoring of their stories. I commend you on this work as I think it has redemptive possibilities for not only Christians, as you note, but for persons of other religions and those who are ‘spiritual but not religious.’

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