5 Reasons to Write a Letter You Don’t Send

Friday 17 August 2018 - Posted by Julia McCutchen

Free writing in a journal has played a significant role on and off for most of my life so I know just how beneficial it is for processing thoughts and feelings, clearing internal space, and more.

My personal experience led me to include Conscious Journaling in my professional work as one of the foundational practices of Conscious Writing.

Yet it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered a magnificent array of journal techniques to suit all types of people in all sorts of situations.

Journal Therapy

Kathleen (Kay) Adams is a psychotherapist who specializes in “helping people use personal writing – journals, diaries, poetry, memoirs, and stories – as a pathway to deeper self-understanding.”(*)

She calls this “journal therapy” which she defines as “the purposeful and intentional use of life-based writing to further [desired] outcomes.”(*) It’s an approach she’s been using professionally since 1985.

Her work was originally informed by Dr. James Pennebaker who conducted and published research on the relationship between emotional release writing and improved physiological and psychological functioning.

The Journal Ladder

In 1998, Adams combined a continuum of journal therapy techniques that she’d been using successfully with her patients into one model she called the Journal Ladder.

It presents 14 different journal writing options that range from highly structured to completely open in order to help people organize, pace and contain their writing.

The reality is that free writing doesn’t suit all situations, so the Journal Ladder enables everyone to enjoy the proven therapeutic benefits of journal writing and the boost it gives to creativity (read my previous post on that here).

Unsent Letters

I love the way that writing serves such a broad spectrum of purposes and feel inspired to share some of these tools with you.

I’m drawn to start with one of the most popular called Unsent Letters; this involves writing a letter to a specific person (in your journal) with no intention of actually sending it.

The process enables you to express your thoughts and feelings without holding yourself back and in a way that may not have been possible with the person concerned.

5 Reasons

Here are 5 reasons you might want to write a letter you don’t send. You may:

  1. Have a request to make that you can’t say out loud.
  2. Need your voice to be heard without being judged.
  3. Require some additional help to feel properly supported.
  4. Struggle with pent-up anger, hurt or feel misunderstood.
  5. Yearn to express what’s truly going on for you right now.

Unsent letters are powerful because they’re for your eyes only so you’re genuinely able to express all that lies unexpressed in your heart without needing to explain all of the details.

As a result, they tend to inspire helpful insights into patterns and relationships, and trigger an immediate and extremely welcome sense of relief.

In the space that follows, a fresh perspective can be gained and a deep level of healing can occur.

Dive In

Wherever you are in your life right now, I invite you to schedule some time alone with your journal in the next few days.

Reflect on what you need to release before it negatively affects your quality of life and causes damage to your overall health and well-being.

Then dive in and write your unsent letter to experience the transformative power of this creative practice for conscious living.

What are your thoughts and feelings about writing a letter you don’t send? Please share your comments and experience below. Thank you!

* For more information about Kathleen (Kay) Adams pioneering work, visit the Center for Journal Therapy.


  • It’s a great technique that I have used many times and really works as long as you do not read back what you have written otherwise you reabsorb the emotional energy you have spent hours writing to release.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Jeanine. I’ve written about this as a journal writing technique as I wanted to share Kathleen Adams’ Journal Ladder for anyone who isn’t aware of it.

      However this same technique can also be written on loose leaf paper rather than in your journal. Then with a strong and clear intention to release the emotional energy once and for all, the paper can be responsibly burned or buried with a respectful request that the earth compost it to restore the energy to its natural state of neutrality.

  • This might sound metal but I like to burn it after I write it. It is a way to truly release those crappy emotions towards someone. It’s a very visual and cathartic way of letting go

    • Not at all Brooklyn, I understand. Responsibly burning what you’ve written is indeed a powerful way to release emotions that are not serving you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • This, along with Journaling nightly was at least something I did appreciate from my ex therapist. I love to write anyway. But these letters are unedited, qnot thought over, just get in that car n drive. Know matter what spews out. It’s purging honesty. Sometimes things Evan you didn’t realize. I highly recommend it. And if your therapist doesn’t require it of you. Bring it up..or do it yourself. This is not meant to be funny but I wrote 3.5 pages to a horse.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Conni, and good for you following your impulse to write to a horse, they are magnificent creatures!

  • What are your personal thoughts on rereading what you’ve written after you are finished writing the letter? I’m not sure if it’s just the “proofing” in me, because I have always been a writer, but I always reread things I have written. So I was just curious if rereading something like this would be considered unhealthy since you are trying to release those emotions and thoughts.

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