Part 5: A Therapeutic Letter about the Absent but Implicit
I am writing this letter to you, Tapio, because my heart is telling
me to do so. A few days ago you made this note in your notebook:
“A therapist is like a reporter who listens and documents.
With his questions, he can make his interviewees see the contradictions
in the dominant story and the multi-dimensional nature of identities.
At its best, the interview process opens up new alternative ways
of thinking and acting and affects both parties.”
How does this metaphor touch you? Why did you remember it right
now? I know that before this, you have thought of therapeutic
letters more as interventions than as a natural continuation of
conversations, where alternative meanings and stories are even
more richly expressed. Does this note somehow affect what you
are thinking about these letters right now? When you noticed that
they are as natural as inhaling and exhaling, does this perception
make writing them easier or more difficult for you?
Right now, you are feeling completely stuck with writing this
vignette. I wonder what it tells you about the thing that you
are not feeling connected to right now? Being Stuck has torn you
off from something you value – what is it? When you experience
this horrifying clumsiness, the empty night of being while writing
these – in your opinion, hollow – words, what things
that are important and precious to you does It, with its dominance,
cover from your sight or stop you from feeling?
The Identities of the Writer
According to French philosopher Derrida, every concept and description
always contains its polar opposite. All concepts and qualities
are relations. We define things by separating them from what they
are not. The feeling of separation is defined in relation to the
feeling of being connected. Despair gets its shade from experiences
of hope. There is always something beyond pain and suffering.
This “something” might contain hope, love, resistance,
life, and so forth. Taoism expresses it like this: “…
that, which is difficult and that, which is easy are contained
within one another… short and long, bright and dark define
one another.” You are you through me. Night is there only
in relation to the morning to come. When a person speaks of depression,
there is a knowledge of happiness contained in that speech. When
we talk of violence, the speech receives its significance from
the knowledge we have of peace. A human being is multi-storied.
Tapio, could this Being Stuck in fact be a very thin story of
yourself as a writer? Could it be just one side, which is showing
(and which you’re feeling) right now, of those multi-dimensional
stories that define you as a writing person? Despite the effects
of Being Stuck, you seem to be clearly in connection with the
knowledge that tells you, “You will write your vignette
despite all this!” Try to remember, if before, when Being
Stuck has appeared in your life, you have been able to keep in
connection with your wilful state? What did you do then? What
do your actions tell you about what you consider important in
your life? What has it connected you with before, what has it
lured you into doing? I am also wondering, what other questions
might help right now to unpack your anxious experience so that
what is implicitly there in it would find its expressions? Let’s
see what we can do!
When your confidence in yourself and in your creativity as a
writer has been at its most visible, how does it affect your work?
I am given permission to be insecure and I relieve myself
of the burden of control. I can easily handle the “emptiness”
of my existence and the good and beautiful things that are contained
in my limits. I am able to write so that the unnamed and the undefined
are also a part of my expression. I am flowing.
What is your relationship with writing like?
I am more spontaneous and honest, I accept my relationship
with the world. Instead of explaining, I am freely reaching for
a certain orientation.
What important things does a relationship like this connect you
with and what does it separate you from?
An idea that as a writer, I am like a hole, through which
life and the world flow. I realize now that striving for showing
the self always in a positive light produces fear, separation.
Dedicating oneself to the issues makes one free and liberates
from the anxiety. In being unsure, writing/living is an ethically
valuable human factor. Shining the self and a constant requirement
for control makes one act on the conditions of growth, benefits,
competition. This kind of anxiety-creating activity is seamlessly
connected to the demands of market liberalism that sees life from
the framework of constant refinement and product development.
It could be that Being Stuck in fact defies this kind of reality.
“Being a loser” can be seen as a determinate resistance
to total control and consumerism, where few people still have
a will, need, want, or thought of their own.
Can you tell stories about yourself, in which spontaneity, honesty,
openness and an acceptant relationship with the world have been
Yes, yes! I think I will start telling them to myself and
exploring them in my heart.
A Letter Within a Letter
Some time ago, you were working with eight-year-old Jussi. Do
you remember what kind of letter you wrote to his support net
after the first session?
To Jussi, Mom, Dad, and Jussi’s friends (including
his teddy bear Nasse).
My name is Tapio Malinen and I work as a school psychologist
in the school of Huhtinen. I have met Jussi and worked with him,
because his mother Helena contacted me.
As you may well know, the lives of Jussi and the people around
him have for some time been complicated by Wildness. It has brought
a kind of “stream” with it, to the extent that during
the hours of 6:00 am and 8:30 pm when it usually operates, it
has succeeded in disturbing the lives of Jussi and his loved ones
in many ways. It has made Jussi cranky, caused fights between
his parents and him and his brothers and tested Grandma’s
patience. According to Jussi, it has also made it a bit difficult
for him to do homework at school.
Because Jussi is a smart, resourceful and normally developed
boy (which is also proven by the psychologist’s test), he
feels it would be better if he, and not Wildness, had control
over his life. Jussi has already noticed that Wildness does not
like it if you walk calmly or ask your friends out for adventures.
Dad has noticed that Wildness does not like working in the
garage, where Jussi gets to do his own stuff. Mom, on the other
hand, has realized that traveling and doing fun things together
have been good ways of taming Wildness. Lately – when there
has been more time for the family and Jussi – Wildness has
indeed diminished and become transparent.
Since Jussi is good at drawing, he has decided to make a
comic about his life while Wildness reigned and about what happened
when he decided to reclaim his life.
The only ones allowed to read this letter are Jussi, Mom,
Dad, Tuomas, Grandma, Teacher, and Nasse.
Jussi’s friend in the project of dispelling Wildness
(Project = a mission where people do heroic deeds)
Do you remember, how eagerly and proudly Jussi told you about
showing his comic to Grandma, and how she had, without knowing
it, asked him many kinds of deconstructive and alternative story
building questions? Your letter recycled a new, dawning idea of
Jussi’s personal agency, combined people into defying the
separating effect of the problem, and functioned as a starting
point for your next meeting.
How well does this letter still reflect your idea of yourself
as a therapist – or are you already developing new ways
of writing therapeutic letters and working with people?
So there. Plenty of questions. Maybe they were too many? I wonder
if you answer them right away or later, when the time is right
More to read on therapeutic documentation and absent
Epston, D. (1998) Expanding the conversation.
In Epston, D.: ”Catching up” with David Epston. Dulwich
Mann, S. (2001) Collaborative representation.
Gecko: a journal of deconstruction and narrative
ideas in therapeutic practice. No.1. (Also available in the web
site of the Dulwich Centre
Morgan, A. (2000) What is Narrative Therapy.
An easy-to-read introduction. Dulwich Centre Publications. Pp.
Pare, D. & Rombach, M.A. (2002) Therapeutic
letters to young persons. In Sori, C.F. & Hecker, L. (Eds.)
The Therapists´ Notebook for Children and Adolescents. Haworth
Perry, L. & Gentle, S-J. (1997) ”Sarah-Jane´s
Story”. Challenging Disabling Practices. Dulwich Centre
Rombach, M.A. (2003) An invitation to Therapeutic
Letter Writing. Journal of Systemic Therapies. Vol. 22, No.1.
White, M. & Epston, D. (1990) Narrative Means
to Therapeutic Ends. Pp. 77-216.
White, M. (1995) Therapeutic Documents Revisited.
In White. M.: Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews & Essays. Dulwich
White, M. (2000) Re-engaging with history: The
absent but implicit. Kirjassa White, M:
Reflections on Narrative Practice. Essays & Interventions.
Dulwich Centre Publications.