By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
Just few weeks ago, I moved out of my lovely practice space at Liberty Place in Lancaster, Pa. With the pandemic still causing a great deal of uncertainty, it hasn’t been practical for me to rent a full-time dedicated space right now. But whatever the logical reasons, I still wanted to say goodbye – a good goodbye.
Good goodbyes are important. I learned this fact many years ago, when I worked as a psychotherapist for a well-known intensive five-day program for adults who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise chaotic homes. It was my first job as a helping professional and my first experience in this kind of program, which bonded small groups of people very quickly as we worked all day, every day, proceeding with heart-changing transformational work. And then the goodbye.
After the initial meeting, which began on Sunday afternoon, the following Friday was devoted to saying goodbye. We gave small books, like old-fashioned autograph books, where people wrote messages of love, caring and respect to each other. There was music, the powerful song as sung Whitney Houston, The Wind Beneath My Wings. Sometimes people made silly little homemade gifts for each other out of white paper plates, markers or bits of string, or there might have been a little skit. But we always sat together in a big circle, participants and psychotherapists alike, and one by one shared our farewells, telling what we had learned, how we had changed, and how we were looking forward to the next chapter.
There were tears. And laughter. And tears. Cameras came out, and dozens of photos were taken. And hugs, lots of hugs.
Taking time to say goodbye, I learned, means that we are recognizing that something important happened here.
In the context of personal growth, saying goodbye is a therapeutic task, acknowledging relationships and loss and how they have impacted us and changed us. It involves reflection and mourning and a range of emotions.
Certainly, my time in this big and beautiful office building here in Lancaster, Pa., has been important. Here, I created a space that I hoped spoke of safety, comfort and engagement, with swagged ceiling lights, soft colors and my collection of sand tray miniatures so that we could tell our stories not just in words but in three-dimensional images in trays filled with sand that were unique to our experiences. Here, I met with people bravely willing to delve into life’s problems. Here, I welcomed helping professionals of all disciplines and backgrounds who showed up to learn psychodrama, experiential psychotherapy and the wonder of Family Constellations.
I started my goodbye process by creating my own sand tray arrangement, using a tiny straw nest, a feather and other little things to express my experience about nesting and "flying" away. Another day, I role reversed with the parking lot, the building and the practice space itself. Role reversal is a psychodramatic technique that allows me to step into the reality of the other to learn his, her, their or its perspective. This allows us to step outside ourselves,
The parking lot boasted of its vastness and its attractiveness to potential visitors. It reminded me that it supported me in getting much needed exercise, walking from my regular parking spot into the building and up the stairs. The brick building, standing squarely, mused on its former life, as the grand corporate headquarters of the Armstrong Cork Co., the many scientists and executives that had walked its halls. It thanked me for appreciating its history and vintage features, such as the woodwork, the marble window sills and the giant windows that let in so much sunlight. My own space on the second floor thanked me for making it pretty and special with room to breathe.
I listened to the space tell its good wishes for me and understanding why I needed to leave, joining me in our sorrow.
On another day, a longtime friend and colleague conducted a sweet closing ritual, bringing in a candle, palo santo incense and an aromatic bunch of dried lavender. We sat on pillows on the floor, lit the candle and took the smoldering palo santo wood to each of the corners of the room in grateful motions. She asked about the memories that the space held, and I told of pre-pandemic memories of what transformation had happened in this space.
A talented videographer filmed a series of short videos of the space that I may use to create a teaching video. Movers cheerfully came to lug my belongings down the freight elevator to their next home. And I took lots of photos and a few selfies to text to friends and post on social media – a distinctly 21st commemorative activity. My readers and friends rewarded me with warm messages; some shared stories of their own leavings and endings, which allowed me to reflect more deeply on my experience and how I might navigate my way.
I’m still here. I’m continuing to work from home with training and clinical supervision – as I have for the past two-plus pandemic years – and looking at opportunities to find occasional space for in-person training classes when I feel confident that we will all be safe.
I'm grateful and a bit sad as I slowly embrace change, but I know that I will find something good in the next chapter. The good goodbye makes it better.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is the founder of the Lancaster School of Psychodrama and Experiential Psychotherapies in Lancaster, Pa., which teaches transformational learning in a variety of experiential methods and practices, including psychodrama, sociometry, Family and Systemic Constellations, sand tray, group skills and more. Subscribe to her e-letter for professionals and get first notice of training events, Early Bird discounts, helpful links and inspiring and supportive info. You may subscribe here.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is an author, trainer and psychotherapist who promotes, practices and teaches experiential methods including psychodrama, Family and Systemic Constellations, sand tray, mindfulness and Tarot imagery.