Letters to a Young Therapist

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this slim volume, best-selling author Mary Pipher (The Shelter of Each Other [1996], Another Country [1999], and Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls [1994]) distills her philosophy of healthy living and good psychotherapy. Her commonsense approach to life and to mental health therapy takes the form of warm and refreshingly honest letters, written in the early mornings over the course of a year, to young therapist and favorite graduate student, Laura. Letters to a Young Therapist: Stories of Hope and Healing is divided into parts, corresponding to the four seasons, with each of the six or seven letters in each part reflecting on the weather, a personal memory, or an activity associated with the season to introduce a discussion of the deeply human issues Pipher has dealt with during her roughly thirty years of clinical practice.

Pipher’s focus is on what makes a good therapist. According to her, mental health therapy in a stressful world should foster self-development and be disencumbered of heavy, rigid theoretical frameworks and jargon. Each letter is a guide to healthy living and reveals Pipher to be a wise, observant, and compassionate human being and therapist. Her rich blending of anecdotes from her personal life, stories about her clients and lessons learned from them, and examples of her successes and failures as a therapist are punctuated by favorite quotations and philosophical insights.

Readers familiar with Pipher’s work will recognize and welcome familiar themes: the need to strengthen and support the family in American society and the need to resist a superficial and dysfunctional culture that undermines the family and literally makes people sick.