The Letter technique offers sensitive closure of the topic to provide care to the groups that worked with difficult and personal issues. The Letter is a reflection on the past experience; the participant gets a chance to think about a particular situation more deeply and to express what they would not be able to say aloud or directly to the person in question. Anyone can be the recipient of this letter: the author themselves, their family, friends, or loved ones. The form of a letter — which may or may not be sent — offers a sense of being purified. Each person may write anything — even sensitive things, something they try to suppress or, on the other hand, feelings/thoughts they would like to release. This technique is anonymous, yet it can make a participant feel vulnerable. Therefore, it is necessary to take the intimate nature of this technique into account and try to ensure the safest space possible.
“I know sometimes it is difficult between us and that sometimes I don’t help it much. I care about you a lot, and I know that your situation is as difficult for you as it is for me. I know you don’t want to hurt me, and you are concerned about me. If it was possible, I wouldn’t transition, but that’s not possible.”
an excerpt from a 17 years old participant’s letter concerning the relationship with their mother
Since the assignment for this activity is done individually, it is possible to use the activity in groups of any size. However, for the sharing part and activity’s conclusion, it is necessary to leave sufficient time that matches the group size.
A longer time frame is necessary for writing the Letter itself. The activity’s conclusion takes approximately 30 minutes. However, it depends on the size and dynamics of the group.
To ensure a pleasant course of the activity, it is necessary to create and maintain a safe space and a calm work environment. If the room allows, it is suitable to offer participants a chance to find a place alone, without disturbances, and where they would feel safe. Equally, it is suitable to ask participants to work on their letters individually and to remain silent and not disturb others, even if they finish early. To maintain a safe space also means that the facilitator considers their own position during the activity. For instance, make sure that participants do not feel watched or disturbed. Possible ways to support an intimate atmosphere include playing background music or facilitators’ participation in the activity.
Before the start of letter-writing itself, it is important to inform the participants that they may seal their written letter into an envelope and take it with them. It is not necessary to give it to the addressee. However, if they wish to, they can. Equally, they may lay their letter aside for the future or even throw it away if this is their decision.
Next, the participants receive a paper, writing implements, and an envelope. Their task is to think about a discussed topic and write a letter about it to a person they wish to at the moment. Anyone can be the addressee of the Letter: the author themselves, their partner, family, friends, their future self, etc.
“I remember how you hurt me with that. It has taken me long before I realised why you had said something like that. For so long, I blamed you, and sometimes I might have even wanted to hurt you back to feel relief, but it didn’t relieve me. Now I understand that you just didn’t know how to take it. That you knew me in a certain way, but suddenly you saw me in a different light and felt you don’t anymore. It’s normal that each person sees us differently, but it didn’t mean after all that all of a sudden I am someone else. It seemed to me as if I was suddenly a stranger to you. When I look back at this, slowly, we find our ways back to one another and are more honest with each other, because you see me whole and try to like me as I am and not just like [someone] who you would want to see. That’s really important to me, and I’m very grateful for it.”
an excerpt from a 19 years old participant’s letter
Due to the activity’s intimacy, it is good to start the discussion with questions that do not relate to the Letter’s content. It is key to let participants answer voluntarily and not approach anyone specifically. For example, you can ask:
How did you feel during the writing of your Letter?
Was it difficult for you to decide who you want to write to and what the Letter should be about?
What do you feel now when you have sealed the envelope?
Next, it is possible to ask whether someone is willing to say more about their Letter. However, it is not advisable to encourage participants to reveal the Letter’s content. For instance, participants may comment on the writing or thinking process. It is possible to communicate the content to the group, but this should not be encouraged by the facilitator in any way. Due to the letters’ possible sensitive content, it is suitable to draw participants’ attention to the fact that the ‘sharing-on-the-voluntary-basis’ rule is valid even after the programme ends. No one should be forced to reveal the content of their Letter. However, if a person is willing to share it voluntarily, they may do so.
The facilitator can, for example, write a letter addressed to the group that would be about how it was for him/her to work with the group and what would they wish them for the future. At the end of the activity, it is possible to read aloud this letter to the group. However, voluntariness applies to the facilitator as well, and therefore it is possible to finish the activity in some different way.