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The Process and Practice of Therapeutic Letter Writing in Narrative Therapy

A letter, is a form of written communication addressed to someone that expresses meaningful messages. As a narrative therapist, writing narrative letters to the people I am in therapeutic relationship with is central to my process and practice.

In the context of counselling, letter writing has a long history (Watts, 2000). Myeroff (2007) writes about how we can be “nourished by the stories being fed back to ourselves” in the genre of a therapeutic letter (p.25). Specifically, in the narrative context, therapeutic letters are used with the purpose of creating double story development where the listener provides an acknowledgement of the problem as well as rich descriptions of alternative stories that were hidden within the dominant ‘problem’ story.

The therapeutic letter, and the practice and process of writing. offers a tangible and layered documented expression of the complex, beautiful, layered, and innovative ways in which the people I work with are responding to the problems in their lives. The letters serve to connect them with the many stories that are circulating around them and permeating inside their mind, as well as embodied within them. Simply, therapeutic letters work in tandem with the therapeutic session to connect them with the stories of their lives. Some people I work with actively respond to the letters I send them, with a response in the form of a returned letter, or a poem, drawing, or conversation.

Crafting a therapeutic letter demands that I carefully and mindfully reflect on the therapeutic conversational sessions that just concluded. I spend time after each session, writing the letters from the detail notes I took while in therapeutic session. Letter writing provides me the crucial opportunity and space to critically reflect on my practices and facilitates further growth and insight on how I can craft more expansive questions as well as opportunities for the people I work with to engage with their stories with me alongside as an active trained witness. Within the letters, both the gaps of missed opportunities are revealed that need to be addressed by me in the subsequent session(s) as well as generative, positive, unexpected opportunities that need further exploration.

Letter writing within narrative therapeutic practice enables a deepening of the work of revising individual’s relationships with the central issues, preoccupations, and problems that inform, colour, and get entangled up and inside their selves, bodies, and lives. Letters are a tangible product that both allows for and demonstrates active listening and validation. It is an evolving and emergent practice that serves as a bridge from session to space a part to the next session. It is grounded in the contradictory, the complex, the fluid, and has the ability to hold and express multiple stories of the moment that we all hold, carry, and live out in our lives.

Works Cited

Myerhoff, B. (2007) Stories as Equipment for Living: Last Talks and Tales of Barbara Myerhoff. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Watts, R.E. (2000) Entering the new millennium: Is Individual Psychology/Adlerian therapy still relevant? The Journal of Individual Psychology, 56, 21-30.