By Mariela Marin
There is power in the circle. Whether it be in relation to the shape of natural elements like the sun and the moon, the circular nature of life cycles, or even in the simple gathering of people, the circle is healing, supportive and connective.
Healing and talking circles are long-held traditions that have served to bring people and communities together for generations. They can be created for a variety of reasons including to foster supportive environments, to address specific issues, to share knowledge and experiences, celebrate, and more. In all of these situations, it is about bringing together people who are willing to speak their truth and listen to that of others to deepen perspective, understanding and possibility, and to create collective experiences of growth.
For those who are psychotherapists, we might at times assume a healing/talking circle is simply a group therapy session, but in fact there are characteristics that distinguish the two that need to be acknowledged. There is the fact that healing circles can, do and have existed outside of formal psychological practices. Therefore facilitators can, but do not require formal training in psychology, but they are still charged with creating safety, supporting intentionality, and facilitating meaningful sharing, listening and connection. They are also invited to participate openly as there is no hierarchy in a healing circle setting a facilitator apart.
Additionally, for many, personal cultural aspects are central to the practice of participating in circles. For instance, what sets a circle apart from a therapy group can be a reliance on ritual. This can include an opening prayer, poem or practice, the burning of sage or copal to cleanse the space and participants, the use of talking pieces. All of this is grounded in ancestral practice and serves to decolonize the healing process while also linking us to ourselves, our fellow group members and our ancestors.
This simple yet powerful act of sharing sacred space to share stories and witness each other is a legacy that we still celebrate and benefit from today when we open ourselves up and come together.
Mariela is a Queer, Latinx therapist and Teaching Faculty and Latinx Mental Health Specialist at Antioch University Santa Barbara. Additionally, they serve as Executive Director at the Community Counseling and Education Center (CCEC) with over 15 years of experience in the field of mental health. They find their many roles help them fulfill the mandate of caring for the community and they are deeply committed to the well-being of their students and clients. Mariela believes in the power of culture, connection, nature and community to heal and strives to support others on their journeys in ways that resonate and empower while also honoring ancestors and supporting future generations