The Art of Writing Letters: Therapeutic Intention and Process
Each week we ask parents and their adolescent children to communicate by writing letters. Letter writing can be one of the most powerful tools you have to establish new ways of relating and communicating hopes and feelings. Letter writing can be seen as an opportunity to re-author your relationship with your child. It also provides a forum for you to assess and consider patterns your child engages in when communicating with you through letters.
Letter writing is typically a medium that allows us to communicate in a clear and direct manner, yet still has the ability to have tone and nuance. The unique variable with letter writing is that you are not required to respond in the moment, e.g., if you are triggered or reacting in the moment to something your child has said to you. You can carefully and intentionally respond with clarity and direction. Young people in the wilderness will typically read and reread parent letters. In light of the limited communication with others outside wilderness treatment, the power of what parents say and how they say it should not be underestimated.
Here are some guidelines and thoughts to consider when writing your child:
- Please write a letter each week.
- Be genuine and real in your writing.
- Share about your therapeutic work at home as well as what you are hearing about your child’s therapeutic work in the program.
- Write about what you are feeling and thinking.
- Brief updates about siblings, pets, or projects around the house are often meaningful.
- Ask questions about what they are learning and how they are feeling.
- Letters can be an ongoing dialogue and process with your child.
Being in treatment in the wilderness provides an opportunity for your child to gain a clearer sense of who they are. This clarity can be interrupted if you are writing too much about what is happening at home. Keep a healthy balance between telling what you are doing and asking about how your child is feeling and what they are doing.
It is important for you to feel that you can be direct, open, and honest. Should your child write you with questions or comments that you are unsure how to address, ask their therapist what they might suggest. We recommend that you ask yourself first, “What is my child telling me they need?” or “What pattern do I see in what is being said?” Looking at the deeper meaning, and not just the content of the question, can help in guiding your response.
Therapists at Evoke coach parents in the letter writing process. This provides an opportunity for parents to take a look at their style of communication, to consider how they might be coming across, and to practice doing something different with their adolescent child. This coaching comes from a place of care and awareness, and is intended to help with exploring the dynamic between parent and child. Sometimes parents resist this coaching, as it can be hard to receive feedback or consider what could be different. I have had some parents struggle with this process, as it is challenging for many to examine their style or manner with their child. As parents open up to the letter writing feedback process, they are often able to learn a lot about themselves, as well as learn more about healthy communication with their child. Parents consider more about their intentions and come to relate to their child in a more meaningful way.
As I encourage parents in the letter writing process, I share:
This is a time of growth and meaning for you. This is an exciting journey. Your letters provide a great opportunity for you to slow down and place the thoughts on paper and review what you really want to communicate to your child. Remember, they are hiking and living in the middle of hundreds of square miles of wilderness. Your letter is all they have from home; making it meaningful and carefully authoring what your heart tells you when coupled with therapeutic counsel can assist you in rebuilding your relationship with your child.
Our therapeutic team at Evoke looks forward to supporting you as you engage the letter writing process. Letter writing is a lost art, and the ability communicate one’s thoughts and feelings is an important skill as you take steps with your child in this process.