Letter Writing as a Clinical Tool in Grief Psychotherapy

Omega (Westport). 2024 May;89(1):222-246. doi: 10.1177/00302228211070155. Epub 2022 Feb 13.


The benefits of expressive writing have been explored since at least the 1980s. The effect of expressive bereavement-related writing has been studied primarily in college students, yielding inconclusive results. Nonetheless, recent effective, integrated psychotherapy protocols, targeting complicated and prolonged grief, include writing assignments, typically in the form of letters. The present paper explores how and why letter writing might be effective and meaningful as a therapeutic tool in the context of grief psychotherapy. It describes how working with letters, addressed to the deceased, might help facilitate self-disclosure, promote exposure to what is avoided, confront unfinished business, encourage continuing bonds, and help achieve a coherent narrative around experiences with the loss. As a therapeutic tool, letter writing has the potential to be helpful to many bereaved people, as it is a simple, effective, and meaningful way to access and work with relevant clinical material in the context of psychotherapy.

Keywords: bereavement; letter writing; prolonged grief; psychotherapy; therapeutic tools.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Bereavement*
  • Grief
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Writing