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Review of "Letters to a Young Therapist"

By Mary Pipher
Basic Books, 2003
Review by David M. Wolf on Oct 25th 2004
Letters to a Young Therapist

We never regret reading letters from a well-traveled, earnest and thoughtful source. It is a year's correspondence to a young therapist named Laura, presented in four seasons, that comprises this excellent, highly readable book. Certainly its counsel and good humor will be of interest to other psychotherapists, but it is no less a pleasure as reading for anyone who cares about people. If one wants to help others or help the self, it's even more valuable.

Words are at times irksome, they grate on us when we try to squeeze them out writing and when we read something poorly styled or carelessly unthought. So, what a pleasure to read something from a seasoned therapist who proves on every page that she is as much a writer as she is a counselor of those who bring her their problems. Pipher writes well on every topic--and there are many in these letters, too many to fairly summarize--because she has much experience, understands what she thinks and feels, and knows how to abide the fields she has cleared and fenced.

Mary Pipher authored Reviving Ophelia, which cast such a light on the problems of teenage girls it sold more than a million copies. The subject of Letters to a Young Therapist is the nature and scope of psychotherapy itself. But it is approached with stories in a spirit of sharing rather than as cold theory. There are many stories of her own and of her clients. Pipher is particularly adept at describing what story is, and even of metaphor itself. So, this book has both literary and psychological purview. She cites Izak Dinisen saying, "All sorrows can be borne if they are put in a story."

Being in a room with another and talking about the clients' problems comes alive and keeps us turning pages. Pipher doesn't just tell us what she thinks, she shares her feelings, her hopes and fears, her disappointments and skepticisms. We feel, after a little while, we know her and like her as much as Laura does. And that's no small thing in a book. 


© 2004 David Wolf


David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback & paperback) is www.xlibris.com/philosophythatworks ; readers can also see the first chapter there.