There is a story told about a Zen master who always had his cat beside him while speaking words of wisdom. When the master died, the cat remained as a mark of honour. But when he, in turn, died, the Zen master’s disciples insisted that a cat should always be there whenever words of wisdom were spoken.

Ritual is a large subject having a bearing on all aspects of life, only a limited selection of which can be covered in this issue. In discussing the nature of ritual we are not looking at mere formalities or habits. We imply containment and the expression of significant moments in our lives. A Christmas issue seemed appropriate for examining this subject, for few other festivals are so surrounded by ritual. Yet it is the time of year when more people come into therapy than at any other and the therapists’ workload can increase dramatically. So much of the ritual has become meaningless that many people find it difficult to cope with it, and become trapped in a cycle of despair. Ritual can be therapeutic and therapy can be ritualistic – a way of containing and expressing symbolism, grasping archetypal form and offering containment and expression in an individual’s life in a special context.

Contributors to this issue have described the use of ritual in therapy, how therapist and client can pool their skills and knowledge to co-create a new ritual that is a metaphor for hope and change and how the passage between pain, darkness and joy may be bridged through ritual.

Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a vivid emotion of pleasure, joy is all too seldom mentioned in a therapeutic context, almost as if it is too elusive and fleeting to be experienced. Yet while’ we believe that ritual cannot ensure that we are joyful, the potential for joy in therapeutic ritual is inherent in the sharing and closeness which comes with this form of celebration.

While the process of change can involve pain, resistance, denial, it can also be a joyful experience, creating new insights. People who are finding their way back into their feelings and their own inner world may experience a sense of joy. No longer should it be viewed as a forbidden area. Even the process of mourning can be joyful. We believe that both ritual and joy are psychological necessities.

Our Spring issue will have as its theme Stress and Burn-Out in Therapy. We welcome contributions on this and other relevant topics. We would like to wish our readers all the joy of the season and thank those who have written for the journal, our many subscribers and our adver­tisers for their continued support throughout the year.