How to hold more meaningful family conversations.

Have you ever bookmarked part of a good story with the intent to return to it another time? Our complex family stories are rarely told from start to finish with all the details filled in, but embracing the unfinished is an important part of the journey. Sometimes after these kinds of conversations, the energy is high - whether from excitement to answer more questions, or a heaviness that comes from reflection - and we need help rebalancing to carry on with our day. This is where rituals can come in.

Even simple rituals can add therapeutic elements to our daily lives, and this holds true for the intimacy of sharing parts of our story too. Jenna Quint, a DBT-certified Registered Social Worker, candidate for EMDR certification, and Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapist, knows this better than most. Specializing in addictions, mental health, trauma, and intergenerational trauma, Jenna works to provide both individual counseling and psychoeducation on these topics to diverse groups across Canada in her private practice. As the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, Jenna recognizes the impacts of intergenerational trauma and the importance of healing it as part of her own mental health journey.

In this beautiful thought piece for Root & Seed, Jenna reflects on the inherent value of rituals and shares how we can hold more meaningful, sensitive conversations by “closing out” family conversations with intention:

I can’t pinpoint when I first started to think about the importance of rituals. I think it was probably around the time that my interest in yoga deepened, and it certainly increased in strength during the time I spent traveling in Asia. That said, I first became interested in the therapeutic usefulness of rituals while working in partnership with police officers doing crisis work in my first-year placement. I was paired with a police officer for a shift who spoke about the emotional toll that the job took on them. They told me that they would come home “wound up” until they began taking cold showers right as they arrived home. It’s now the first thing they do when they get in the house. The showers marked the end of the workday for this officer. This practice and its underlying implication was interesting to me, and I began to notice that certain actions, activities, and events could mark the end of one thing and the beginning of something else.

After that, I began to notice all the little rituals that marked my daily life. Each morning when I wake up, I go to the coffee shop in my building and get a coffee. I get back in bed and drink it there quietly. That’s my little ritual that marks the beginning of my day. Also, I used to take the GoTrain home to Toronto from a job I worked in Peel, Ontario. As soon as I got on the train, I’d call a friend to catch up. That ritual marked the end of the workday.

Before we go any further, I wanted to commit a classic literary faux pas and formally define the common elements of rituals, so we’re all on the same page. According to literature, rituals have three shared components: they include a formalized, repetitive sequence of behaviours, they have a symbolic meaning and finally, these behaviors may lack a readily apparent purpose.

Next, I’ll mention how rituals have been embedded into disparate human cultures across the globe, and have existed for a long time. In fact, according to archeological finds the first known ritual occurred 70,000 years ago in Botswana (so a long time ago). In my opinion, the long-term survival and pervasive adoption of rituals indicates they are adaptive in some way.

According to research, rituals have many functions, such as helping people live out their values, reducing anxiety, and helping with social bonding. In addition to these important functions, I would argue that rituals also function as boundaries. They can serve as boundaries between seasons (summer and winter solstice rituals), between phases of life (graduations, weddings, baby showers, funerals), and between times of the day (morning and evening routines, breakfast, lunch, and dinner). They can represent the close of one phase and the beginning of the next.

What’s a Closing Ritual?

This brings us to closing rituals, which represent boundaries that signify the ending of something. These are the rituals that help us let go and keep our emotions, thoughts, and feelings contained. They can exist on a variety of scales. For example, a closing ritual at the end of the workday might help us let go of and contain what happened that day. The aforementioned police officer’s showers are a great illustration of this. Rituals can also help us "close out” longer passages of time. As an example, a funeral might represent a closing ritual that marks the end of a life.

Why Closing Rituals Matter

In therapy, we often unintentionally use rituals in different ways to create boundaries between session time and real life. Therapists may end each time with a grounding exercise, use different containment strategies at the end of each session, or spend a few minutes closing in the same way each time (using a safety check, summarizing, or assigning homework). These techniques are used for different scientific, legal, and/or stylistic reasons, but one could argue they also serve as boundaries that signal the end of the session. Meaning, they also help the client let go of and contain the (sometimes distressing) materials spoken about in the session so they can return to real life.


Closing Out Conversations for Root & Seed

Root & Seed is designed to help foster discussions among families about heritage and family history, allowing us to preserve our family legacy across generations. Sometimes, these types of discussions trigger warm and pleasant memories, and many of Root & Seed’s conversation cards are designed to do this - one user even reported that their grandma didn’t want to stop playing, eager to keep reminiscing and saying, “Ask me another question, ask me another!”

But in other instances, these kinds of discussions may trigger more distressing or even traumatic thoughts. This may result in emotional discomfort and resistance to these conversations in the future. As a therapist who does work with intergenerational trauma, I see this all the time. In these instances, closing rituals can be useful in order to help contain the conversations and memories that might surface consciously and subconsciously both during, and in the weeks following, these conversations.

Here are some examples of closing rituals you may consider doing after having a Root & Seed conversation:

  1. Put the game away and light a candle together, helping to ground us and signal the close of the game.

  2. Put the game away and have everyone share one thing that they are grateful they learned from the game. This helps us frame the experience positively, have meaningful takeaways, and signals the end of the game.

  3. Put the game away and have everyone engage in a few minutes of deep breathing (4-7-8 breathing is one of my personal favorites), which regulates the nervous system and signals the close of the game.

We invite you to learn more about Jenna’s insights on intergenerational trauma as we mark Mental Health Month with more conversations around building stronger bonds between generations.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided above should not be taken as therapeutic advice and is intended for general informational purposes only. The recommendations above should not be considered as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult a professional before making any therapeutic decisions or for guidance about a specific condition.


Do you have any examples of closing rituals your family uses after having conversations about family stories, histories, or traditions?

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