On Saying Goodbye

As a group psychotherapy instructor, I have often made ‘saying goodbye’ a centerpiece among group-relevant topics. It is the hardest topic by far to keep everyone, including myself, engaged with. I tell them all the ways that people, including ourselves, skirt the goodbye. We say “see you later” to people we are almost certain we will never see again. The platitudes that substitute the goodbye are much more common than that actual word, “goodbye.”

Many of us cringe at the certainty of the goodbye. There is no true goodbye without grief, both for the current loss and for all that precede it. So why push the point? I tell my students that in a world where true “goodbyes” are infrequent, unresolved losses loom large. So many of our patients (and if I am being truthful, ourselves) live entire lives without true closure in most of their closest relationships. Break-ups happen without explanation, employment positions are left without reflection, and many deaths are preceded primarily by denial that the inevitable will occur. We must get comfortable enough with goodbyes so that we can have them with our patients, so that they can learn to have them with others. While loss is inevitable, “good goodbyes” are possible.

Despite teaching and practicing this model through the turn of many academic years, I am not saying that the real goodbye gets much easier. Yet I am committed to real goodbyes, and I know most of you are as well. It is not an accident that one of the most heavily cited Group Psychologist articles is Leann Diederich’s piece on Semi-Structured Termination Exercises in group. I have used those exercises and found great comfort in bringing some sense of order to an interaction that on some level is always overwhelming, because goodbyes remind us of our own ultimate demise.

So, this is my goodbye. As I say it, I am flooded with a sense of loss and it brings to mind the pains of loss at all levels: internationally as two horrific wars are ongoing, nationally in the wake of another mass shooting, regionally as the effects of climate change are perceptible within my own communities’ weather, and personally as I ready myself to attend the services of a close family friend tomorrow.

And yet, I still want to acknowledge this goodbye. It is so tempting to deny it and say, “I’ll still be around and working with the Group Specialty Council”. While this is true, it minimizes the goodbye of finishing my term as Division 49 President and leaving the Board. It’s tempting to dilute the goodbye with an eye to the future. I genuinely see our Division’s bright future and I fully embrace our next iteration of leadership. And yet – I need to say my own goodbye. You see the struggle, right?

So here it is – goodbye. Goodbye to the most meaningful leadership experience of my life so far. Goodbye to a group that I got to dine carefree with in a protected alcove at an amazing restaurant in DC, when we were on the precipice of the world being turned upside down by Covid, but we were completely unaware. Goodbye to holding a position where I feel like I was seen and had a say. Goodbye to a wonderful group of people who navigated a chaotic convention to re-emerge into the world of real-life interactions. The truth is for each iteration of the Board, it will be the only moment in which that particular group of people intertwine in that particular moment in time. I have made lifelong friends and we have done work together that will shape the Society for many years to come. I wouldn’t change a thing.

President Elect

The “F” word (in psychology)

Dr. Francis Kaklauskas with Dr. Nathaniel Granger, Dr. Louis Hoffman, Dr Ian Wickramasekera. & Dr. Luis Vargas

I wonder where everyone’s mind went with this title. I remember my mother telling me to find a more unique and descriptive adjective than lazily putting the dirty F-word in my phrases in for emphasis. I have done the same for the children in my life. However, when my son was three years old, almost everyone found it cute and reinforced his regular use of the phrase “F*&# you, F*&# you, F*&#, F*&#.” Hopefully, he didn’t learn it at home, and I take parental solace as some research suggests that cursing is actually good for emotional and physical health, as well as developing friendships (Byrne, 2017). Luckily with age, his vocabulary has expanded.

In psychology, other popular f-words include “feelings” and “forgiveness.” Both are important constructs and behaviors that have demonstrated increases in emotional, relational, and physical health (VanderWeele, 2020). Nevertheless, I am thinking of the F-word that is often unheralded in the psychological literature: “Friendship.” Friendship has been criticized as a psychological concept as it is hard to operationalized and changes with stages of life (Allan, 2021). It is more of a romantic and childlike notion than one deserving of serious psychological attention. In part, western cultures focus on independence and the individual, which may contribute devaluing of friendship. Friendship models and behaviors are culturally informed and ideographic, and western model and definitions are not universal (Nordin, 2020).

When digging into this topic, I was surprised by the dearth of academic publications on this topic compared to many other subjects. However, going outside of this field we find countless artistic expressions that centralize friendship across genres, cultures, and history. Some common contemporary aspects of friendship highlight its reciprocal behaviors, shared interests, emotional intimacy, and mutual voluntary engagement (Bell & Coleman, 2020). The characteristic of a good friend may include kindness, fairness, teamwork, and perspective taking (Wagner, 2019). In our current times, friendship is both valued and missing in many peoples’ lives (Cox, 2021).

In the groups I lead, members voice frustration and confusion around their friendship experiences. Like the larger field, they struggle to define what friendships are, what the expectations are, and are unsure if they or others are doing the friendship thing right. They feel like there is a cultural voice that friendship should be a given and not having enough friendships means something is wrong with you. In these group, we explore both external and internal obstacles that muddle the friendship processes. Externally, the busyness of contemporary life, as well as financial, work, family, and community demands, leave little time for other relationship. For individuals with marginalized identities, projections and stereotyping may contribute smaller social circles (Kaeppel et al. 2020). Many people lack the desire or know how to broach friendships across differences. Internally, obstacles towards creating and sustaining friendships include self-esteem, fear of rejections, limited communication skills, and ridged relational and attachment patterns.

Case Report

A young self-described Latina bisexual clinician participated as a long-term group member in one of my groups. We had different racial, ethnic, religious, and gender identities, but we were open and willing to try to connect. We shared some experiences of trying to find our way in the professional world when we had no childhood models, deep seeded feelings of not being enough, expecting rejection from others, and conflicting thoughts about how to manage aspects of our personal and cultural identities with our professional identity. Other experiences, however, were far outside the realm of my life as I had not lived their unique experience of being a bisexual woman of color. But as a practice and norm, groups can lean into learning from difference. I did my best to listen and understand, promoted these discussions, and in a subtle or not so subtle manner demanded that the other group members do the same for her and for each other.

At first, her and I, started ongoing tensions that eventually turned to comfort and trust with one another. She could clearly see impasses that I needed to uncover to reveal the depths of my privilege, and I welcomed these discussions. We also discussed the potential socio-cultural and person relational enactments that were occurring, as well as transference and countertransference possibilities. But over time we grew closer through these conversations, and our distinctive semi-joking banter and teasing let each other know we were doing our best to fully see, respect, and help each other. We really grew intimate, and I think we were happy to see each other each week. Over the years, the group and I traveled with her through job changes and promotions and, most importantly, the intricacies of her personal and romantic relationships.

During group she started to regularly describe a variety of physical symptoms and had the multiple medical clearances from her doctors. She knew something was not right and eventually she received an Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis. Anger and fury emerged then and often in the future. As a group we were supportive and hopefully provided a different experience than what seemed like biases towards her in the medical system. Over the years she became much more limited. We listened with empathy to this and journeyed with her. Also, other group members discussed the impact of seeing someone they are connected with become more ill. It had a profound impact as we tried to contain the pain while also fearlessly facing feelings of powerlessness, life’s fragility, injustice, survivors’ guilt, and painful reality. Externally, I tried to be strong and supportive. I would help her partner get her in and out of the car and made sure she had her preferred place in the circle reserved. Internally, her presence brought up painful memories of my recent caring of my parents and brother as they died from elongated illness.

She described the increasing alienation as people publicly avoided her and people form her life stopped being in contact. We heard, but more felt, and the intimate details of her inner struggle of increasingly limited physical and cognitive capabilities and the inescapable pain of the disease and of facing one’s life shortening. As her speech declined and we had a harder time understanding her, I was almost overwhelmed with echoes and memories of my own childhood struggles with a severe speech impediment and stuttering. While my memory for me was a pathway into empathy for me, all in the group realized that despite our efforts and desire to understand and be with her, we could not approach the depth of her experience. She felt an overwhelming desire to communicate and be in deep relationship but was locked in a non-chosen isolation, alienation, and marginalization.

At that point in my career, while my initial training suggested an opaque leadership style in which I would read the tea leaves of group events for maladaptive defense functioning and relational enactments, but I was already moving signifyingy toward the ideographic and cultural views that were developing at the turn of this century. Also, my mother’s strong resonance with critical theory and feminism was and always will be deeply inside me. However, near the end of her time in the group she requested more from me and a lot more about me. She helped me take more risks to connect more intimately in both my role and as a person as one may see is certain styles of humanistic or relational psychoanalytic approaches. But beyond all these theories, we both knew time was short. We had some ruptures similar to how we began, and in retrospect perhaps I should have contained or rephrased some of my attempts to connect, but perhaps this is all we could do in the face of such tragedy and sadness.

She eventually left the group and went on spiritual quest with the support of her partner. I learned about her death and shared it with the group, and even as new members entered the group her memory and energy continue to inform us. While the setting was professional, to be honest we all lost a friend, more than just another group member. After she left, the members continued to explore the dilemmas of personal connections, moments of misunderstanding, fears of rejection, loving and losing, and how their families, society, or their education had not prepared them to be high functioning relational beings. A metaphor that emerged was moving beyond embracing the lone shadowy figure on horse on the plains at sundown. We can still see such landscapes in rural Colorado, but the group talked about bravely riding into town to despite the awkwardness, fears, and range of other feelings.

The group members moved more into relational risk taking in the group and in their lives.  Of course, these courageous attempts were accompanied by expected failures, but also successes. With the contrast of death, the group fought to more alive. Being in connection and friendship became a primary goal.

On her last group, she asked if I and we would be okay, and she wanted to group to continue without her.  My trained impulse is to examine such questions as reflecting something in the member’s experience.  Of course, she had grief, and in our relationship the time for my w probing or interpreting had passed.  I debated how to respond and went ahead and shared my internal association.  I told her my mother’s dying word to me that had helped sustain me without her. “Life is for the living.”


The contemporary psychological and sociological research continues to highlight our culture’s increasing isolation and loneliness, particularly for those of non-dominant identities and youth (Cox, 2021; Burhaein et al, 2020). Groups of all types provide hope for this epidemic. Many group members enter group terrified of others but rise above their fears. One entering member reported their goal for the group was to have just one friend before they died.

This topic of friendship came to me as I was driving up to spend a rare weekend away from my family and local community. The weekend was the Rocky Mountain Humanistic Counseling and Psychology Associations yearly writing retreat.  We have self-selected to be together, and although we range across a wide spectrum of identity demographics, we share some variations of historical and current struggles with differing intensity given our identities and life events. We share interests in decolonizing psychology, critical theory, postmodern thought, existentialism, research, and onwards, but it is more than that. Typically, we each write during the day and then have dinner and talk throughout the evening. There seems no topic is out of bounds. We share about our positive, challenging, and embarrassing life events, current academic interests, as well as what writing we are working on.

As psychologists, we go back and forth comparing theories to our own and each other’s lives. We disagree, tease, and joke with each other, but rarely ever cross the line into disrespect and dehumanization. We have a commitment to be friends, to try hard, to take feedback, to be ourselves, to be conscientious, and to enjoy one another. Perhaps because of our identity differences our friendship started slowly, however, as happen in healthy groups, more trust, intimacy, and honesty developed over time.

My father, Adolph, would say that it is hard to find anyone who is willing to raise to the challenge of being a friend, but his experiences were tainted with many seedy characters coming from homelessness and the corrupt power structures of our small New Jersey town. But this group   chose to be more hopeful around the possibility of friendship. One member said with inspiration “possibilities are all around us… even work.”   Workplace relationships built on care, respect, and boundaries do show many positive impacts on health, resilience, and job satisfaction. With my neighbors in Colorado, most try to foster friendly and helpful relationships despite often passionate different political views intersecting with other identity differences. Usually we do fine, but sometime some neighbors rejected us.  My family takes solace in trying.

My clients sometimes come to group looking for a behavioral system or resolution of some unconscious patterns to decrease their loneliness, create connections, and find new meanings. Recently, one group member, who had several oppressed identities and faced a lifetime of bias, had amazing success moving from an unhealthy abusive relationships and deep depression into an increasing community. Members were inspired and curious and asked how she did it. She reported that she only tried to be more friendly and placed being a good friend higher on her priority list than career prestige or finding romance. But later, the group agreed developing and sustaining friendships is an enigmatic and semi-demanding part-time job.  But other members reported trying this straightforward wisdom with success. The group was also determined not to be Pollyanna and we shared other feelings in this process, specifically anger, shame, and hurt.

Of course, definitions of friendship are not as simple as math equations or maxims. What a friend is and what a friend does or doesn’t do continues to need more academic and personal explorations. While this article appears to be about friendship, really it is a love letter to my friends over my life who helped me grow more secure, engage in difficult dialogues, feel understood and yet challenged.  We risked vulnerability and stayed committed despite any limitations with time, relational skills, awareness, and onwards.

In writing this short piece, I find a desire to follow the group member journey of being more friendly and prioritizing friendships more. In this field and in contemporary life when often our professional, family, and community roles and duties leave little space, we may benefit from each doing a heuristic experiment with an n of one in which we put more effort and value into our friendships and then explore the results. If you do, please, let me know the results and I will let you know mine.


Allan, G. A. (2021). A Sociology of Friendship and Kinship. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

Bell, S., & Coleman, S. (2020). The anthropology of friendship: Enduring themes and future possibilities. In The anthropology of friendship (pp. 1-19). Routledge.

Burhaein, E., Phytanza, D. T. P., & Demirci, N. (2020). The development and validation of a revised Friendship Activity Scale and Adjective Checklist for use in the Indonesian Unified Sports program. ISS, 42(1), 15-32.

Byrne, E. (2017). Swearing is good for you: The amazing science of bad language. Profile Books.

Cox, D. A. (2021). The state of American friendship: Change, challenges, and loss. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. pdf.

Craig, L., & Kuykendall, L. (2019). Examining the role of friendship for employee well-being. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 115, 103-313.

Kaeppel, K., Grenier, R. S., & Björngard-Basayne, E. (2020). The F word: The role of women’s friendships in navigating the gendered workplace of academia. Human Resource Development Review, 19(4), 362-383.

Nordin, A. (2020). Decolonizing friendship. The Journal of Friendship Studies, 6(1), 88-114.

Schwartz-Mette, R. A., Shankman, J., Dueweke, A. R., Borowski, S., & Rose, A. J. (2020). Relations of friendship experiences with depressive symptoms and loneliness in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 146(8), 664.

 VanderWeele, T. J. (2020). Activities for flourishing: An evidence based guide. Journal of Positive School Psychology, 4(1), 79-91.

Schwartz-Mette, R. A., Shankman, J., Dueweke, A. R., Borowski, S., & Rose, A. J. (2020). Relations of friendship experiences with depressive symptoms and loneliness in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 146(8), 664.

VanderWeele, T. J. (2020). Activities for flourishing: An evidence- based guide. Journal of Positive School Psychology, 4(1), 79-91.

Wagner, L. (2019). Good Character Is What We Look for in a Friend: Character Strengths Are Positively Related to Peer Acceptance and Friendship Quality in Early Adolescents. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 39(6), 864-903.

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