Therapeutic Letters: One Way to Communicate More Effectively

In her new memoir Happy Accidents Jane Lynch writes about the use of therapeutic letters.

Lynch speaks about the difficulty she had years ago coming out as a lesbian to her parents and how her therapist suggested writing them a letter. It was the fairly standard write-it/don’t-necessarily-send-it/maybe-you-should-show-it-to-me-first therapy thing.

Therapeutic letters are something I’ve not only suggested to clients many times but have also used personally. In fact, I did it for the very same reason Lynch did—over 30 years ago, I chose to come out to my mom this way. And like Lynch, when my letter was completed, I did decide to send what I’d written.

In my novel, Minding Therapy, the lead character Daryl has deep-seated issues with her mom and can’t get through to her. And her therapist suggests—you guessed it—that Daryl write her a letter. Daryl, who’s also a therapist, is surprised she didn’t think of it herself.

Following multiple revisions, Daryl is finally comfortable with her letter—and she sends it off without waiting to show it to Lauren, her shrink. Thus, when she does show it to her, she fears it may already be too late.

I read Lauren my copy of the letter and she seems to approve. But then, what else can she do now that it’s in the mail? She can’t very well say, No! That letter won’t do! Call the Post Office and have it intercepted at once! It’s going to kill her! And it’s badly written!

It does turn out okay in the end, of course. After all, letter-writing is awesome. It affords the sender a chance to say what she needs to say without being sidetracked by heated dialogue, and it affords the receiver a chance to think things through before responding. And thus, both parties can work together more effectively on their relationship.

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