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Therapeutic benefits of writing letters

Going through cancer treatment can trigger many emotions, particularly about your relationships. Writing a letter to a loved one can be a healthy way to express your feelings and say what’s on your mind, whether you send the letter or not.

“Writing is therapeutic because at the core of writing is self-expression,” says Lauren Garvey, MS, CRC, NCC, a counselor and facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “We know that being able to express how we feel and what we think impacts us on a cellular level. This is why writing has psychological, mental and physical health benefits.”

Letter writing is different from reflective or expressive writing because of your intention, which is to share how you feel about your relationship or interactions with someone else.

“Writing a letter helps us be as clear as we can possibly be,” she says. “Sometimes you can rehearse a phone conversation, but it may not go as planned. Writing a letter gives you the ability to say exactly what you want to say to the best of your ability. It can be really healing to express your thoughts and feelings exactly how you mean to express them.”

A long history of letter writing

“Letter writing is so interesting because we can read letters throughout history from one person to another,” says Garvey. “It’s a means of communication that is getting outdated, so I think one of the things that draws us in when we receive a letter is how personal and meaningful it feels.”

To send or not to send?

You may choose to write a letter without the intention of sending it. Regardless of whether your share it or not, letter writing can be a cathartic exercise to help you:

  • Get clarity about how you feel about a situation.

  • Release negative feelings or thoughts.

  • Share gratitude and positive feelings toward a person or circumstance.

  • Meaningfully prepare for a conversation with a loved one. 

  • Say exactly what you want to say, adjusting your words if needed.

  • Let someone know how much they mean to you.

  • Create a legacy that can outlast you.

“Our words have power,” says Garvey. “Writing a letter to a loved one is a wonderful way to convey meaning that can feel intangible. It is human nature for us to want to express our thoughts and a letter can do that in a way that can be preserved.”

Whether you choose to write a letter or not, expressing yourself creatively has many health benefits. Find out more.

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