Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Linking Lives: Invitations to Clients to Write Letters to Clients

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Linking Lives: Invitations to Clients to Write Letters to Clients

Article excerpt

Introduction

Therapeutic letters are what initially captivated me about narrative therapy. The first introduction I had to narrative ideas was reading Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends by Michael White and David Epston (1990). The numerous examples of therapeutic letters outlined in this groundbreaking book emanated a beauty, skillful playfulness, and dignity for the client that I had not yet come across in my professional training as a counsellor. In the ensuing 5 years since immersing myself in the study and practice of narrative ideas, I have written therapeutic letters to clients, sought consultation to improve my letter writing abilities, read as many letters as possible written by other narrative therapists, read articles on letter writing, and taken workshops on the theory behind the construction of letters. In particular, David Nylund's1 skillful letter writing has informed my learning. However, the types of letter writing I have come across have traditionally been letters written by therapists or, more recently, letters written by family and friends of the client, as in Stephen Madigan's creative letter writing campaigns (Madigan, 1997, 1999). This article describes an innovative approach to letter writing that provides an additional way to include letters in therapy in which clients are the ones writing therapeutic letters to each other. With this use of letters, the client is the author, and not solely the recipient of therapeutic letters. I will describe how this idea came about, how it was implemented, and provide examples of client-written letters. The article will conclude with clients' reflections on their experience of participating in this novel letter writing project.

Working as a narrative therapist in a busy rural Mental Health and Addiction centre in Squamish, B.C., Canada, I have the opportunity to hear many people's stories about how they are standing up to problems in their lives. The resourcefulness and creativity that is shared often makes me reflect how it is somehow not entirely fair that I should be the only one benefiting from hearing these stories. I have had the frequent experience of sitting and listening to a client share something wise and helpful and think to myself, 'I wish my other client could hear this right now, because these two clients are really dealing with similar problems'. I would try to remember what my clients said in order to share with other clients, but I found when I passed on these wise words, they lost some of their zest and impact. This situation led me to start inviting my clients to write letters to each other so they could share with each other their hard-won knowledge about how to decrease the influence of problems in their lives. I wanted my clients to benefit from each other and thought linking their lives through letter writing may be a simple yet powerful way to do so. Many narrative therapists have demonstrated that therapeutic letters written by therapists to clients are an effective, impactful, and cost-efficient way to support and strengthen the development of a new story for people, and I was curious to know if clients writing their own letters to each other could produce the same benefits.

To provide an example of this new letter writing practice, I would like to introduce you to 'Rita' and 'Naomi' (names changed to protect confidentiality). Rita is a 55-year-old First Nations woman who has advanced rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She also is the matriarch of her family and her two grown children and three grandchildren live with her. She takes on the lion's share of parenting, household duties, and managing the family's finances. She also is a huge supporter and assistant coach of her two granddaughters' elite soccer careers, and an advocate of Aboriginal education for children in her community. The RA makes everything challenging for her, chronic pain is an everyday reality, and the stress of managing the household and being the main caregiver to her grandchildren exacerbates the severity of the RA and chronic pain. …

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