Rituals for Letting Go in Consulting Work

In RJ we do relational work – how do we as consultants honour “moving on” from our clients? 

I am contending lately with an obvious but sometimes unacknowledged fact: my work is more than just a transaction. Even though relationship is at the very heart of restorative justice work, contract work by nature has created the dilemma of efficient good-byes and perfunctory closure. I grow attached to projects and clients, especially the longer-term ones. I come to care for people, and I still care about them after the contract is over. Conversely, I don’t always look at the impact the relationship has had on me. I’m sure I’m not the first helping professional that’s encountered this. All the same, what I seem to be confronting is that I’ve been ignoring the experience of loss that sometimes comes with goodbyes in our work.

Part of what we are about on the Just Outcomes team is showing up authentically and engaging in genuine relationship with those we are serving. I show up as Catherine with everyone I meet, and this is core to how I understand restorative justice principles. I care about people who I spend a lot of time with. So it is strange and disjointed when then the contract is up. Suddenly I am gone, and they are gone. Maybe a missing piece is that I haven’t allowed myself to speak the impact, to voice the way I was changed or transformed by a relationship or an aspect of the project. That inhibition seems right in line with how a colonized mindset impacts so many of us, with its assumptions about “moving forward” and “getting on with it”.

There may be ways of expressing some of how I feel to clients, for example in a closing circle, or a consensual good-bye hug. But in the fast-paced world of consulting, I think we also have to provide our own opportunities to slow down and take stock. How am I evolving? How was I impacted? What is it going to be like to not see that person or group anymore, at least for a while? The tendency is to stuff it, accept it as part of the “biz”, and yes–move on.

But can we open our imagination about this? At our recent staff retreat, we revisited some of our work over the past year. Together, we crafted a ritual that was designed to acknowledge and possibly alleviate some of these gnawing feelings and recognitions. To honour what was, what is, and what is next.

Here’s what we did . . .

First, we ground ourselves in our intention—what do we want to achieve with this ritual? We determined it was to map our learning and growth, and to reflect on what it means for our transformation as individuals and as a team. The metaphor that we used to guide us was the ultimate super-metaphor: the tree.

We put up a poster board for each section of the tree—roots, trunk, branches/leaves and mapped out the following.


What values did we go into this project with, how did we start (“initial roots”)?  Examples: “systems change”, “serving survivors” etc.


As this tree grew—what happened? What were key events?  What was exciting?  What was challenging, unexpected or even draining?  What relationships were meaningful? We drew/wrote in notches of the tree representing key events in the project.

Branches and Leaves

What did we learn as individuals and a team?  What was the fruit of this growth? Examples: Learning to let go of outcome, resiliency, staying equanimous in heated situations, etc.

Anything missing from this tree?

Anything you want to see reflected here about the journey?

We all beheld the tree and let the journey sink in . . . then we ripped it off the wall.

To close, we held some seeds that we had brought, that we imagined could have been produced by the tree.  We shared some final thoughts in a circle, and then we thoughtfully planted the seeds in a nutrient-rich garden area nearby.  Those seeds have not sprouted yet (and we kept extra in case the season-timing was not right!), but we know they are preparing for that growth.  In all this, we think about the regenerative nature of all eco-systems, including relational ones—and we wait for Spring.

Our team enjoyed connecting in this way, and the value of deeply reflecting on our work, harvesting the learning, and symbolically letting go of the past.  We offer this process in case it might serve others, and invite you to share any other ideas that this sparks for you!

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