Saturday, April 25, 2009

Letter Writing Therapy

The inspiration for this article came from, yup Summer Glau. Specifically, the episode of Sarah Connor Chronicles where our lovely ballerina-bot inquires as to why people are leaving notes for a deceased girl, to which our lovely-by-association-with-our-lovely-ballerina-bot John Connor replies, “Sometimes things happen and they're so bad that people just don't know how to deal with their sadness, so they write it in a note.”

Plato didn’t have much positive to say for writing, but sometimes it’s the only way to communicate with a distant person. This person might be distant geographically, emotionally, of physically (as with a death). The person might not even be a person; it can be an addiction, an emotion, or a behaviour. The communication might be one of warm greeting (like with an old friend), one of closure (saying goodbye to the drug of your addiction), or an appeal (apologising to your adult child for not spending enough time with them).

Letters can be written for purely cathartic reasons, without ever sending it to the addressee, or they can be written intentionally to be read by the recipient. Some therapists recommend tearing up the letter after it has been written as a way of physically giving the patient closure, though I think it would be better to review the letter in session before destroying it.

As for letter writing between patient and therapist, I think a different mode of communication can allow for greater understanding as some people understand and use the written word more competently than the spoken form. The letters, as with any therapy, need to keep a certain structure and focus. It may also provide a means of long-distance therapy when the patient is unable to attend session, but still needs to check in. It can also be beneficial for a patient to write to their therapist during the week, but these letters should be reviewed in session and the patient should understand that there may not be enough time to cover the entire content of the letter, especially if there are a few of them. What the patient can do to make best use of their time in session, is to review the letters before session and make a brief list of the most important topics.

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