The following sample reformulation letter is a fictional one, which makes a fond reference to the Wallace and Gromit adventure “The Wrong Trousers”. This is intended to be light and humorous, and clearly does not make reference to a real therapy. We hope that it does not give the impression that we are trivialising therapy, which is certainly not our intention. This letter, and the goodbye letters that follow on from it, have been written to make some points that commonly arise in therapy but at the same time no single example can represent all aspects of therapy.
This is my attempt to summarise in writing what we have been talking about during these first weeks of your psychotherapy, and the understandings that we have come to as a result. I would like to emphasise that this is only a draft and that any of it can be changed – what I hope to end up with is a document that fully and fairly represents our joint understanding of your difficulties and where they came from. So if I get anything wrong, or not quite right, or that you see it a bit more like this than that, then tell me and we can change it. This letter is only going to be helpful if you feel that it is a fair description of you, and you feel you own it.
The main problems that you have brought to therapy and want to work on are that of unhappiness in your relationship with Wallace, and despair about ever finding a mate and having puppies.
You were one of a litter of 8 puppies yourself, and remember the shock of being taken away from your mother and brothers and sisters. You didn’t know what was happening as you hadn’t learnt to understand English yet, and you were distraught to be taken away from the warmth, love and sense of belonging you felt in those early days. We have wondered whether your sense of longing for puppies and a family of your own now goes back to the feelings of love and security which you lost but want to recover. There is still a deep, sad hole inside you which feels as if it can only be filled by meeting your mother or littermates again. Sorrowfully, you have not seen or smelled any of them since.
You were taken away to be given to Wallace whom you have since grown to love. You remember trembling as a puppy in his arms when you first met and although frightened and unable to understand his words, their intention felt kindly and his stroke was gentle and reassuring. He has proven to be an interesting owner and, unusually for a human, has not only recognised your intelligence and abilities, but has also encouraged and nurtured them. You have your own room and library, and access to all of Wallace’s tools. You have become co-inventors and more like housemates than owner and dog. In fact, until recently, your life was rumbling along quite comfortably.
It all changed when Wallace hit hard times financially and decided the only thing that could be done was to get a lodger. Penguin answered the ad and moved in. He moved into your room, uses your things, had your flap in the front door re-cut into a penguin shape, and plays music at night so you can’t sleep and quite literally have ended up in the doghouse – the kennel in the garden. The worst thing about how easily Penguin has pushed you aside and infiltrated your life is that Wallace has allowed it. This is what has hurt you most. It feels to you as if he hasn’t even noticed what has happened to you, hasn’t considered your feelings and, well, has just been treating you like a dog. You may or may not be right that Penguin has malicious intent in all this, but the larger part of your current misery comes from the intense feelings of separation, loss and loneliness. It feels once again that you have been wrenched unceremoniously from the warmth of a loving family, and once again the humans haven’t noticed or considered the emotional impact on you. It feels like being a puppy again.
It seems to me that you are now intensely aware of a painful dilemma that actually has been around for you for some time. You are caught between either living like a human – but at risk of being treated at any time like a dog – or returning to life fully as a dog – but giving up the opportunities you have now and possibly feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.
The feelings of loss and desire to love, be loved and to belong are incredibly powerful at the moment and, as described above have already been triggered by current events but resonate with your early trauma. It is not surprising that your wish to find a mate and have puppies is so strong and, while undeniably a natural urge, it seems understandable that it should surface now as a reaction to and attempt to deal with your present hurt.
You have begun to name and grapple with these feelings, conflicts and dilemmas in our first few sessions. I cannot promise that you will end this therapy feeling better and that everything has been resolved. What I can offer is companionship on this part of your journey and an honest reflector for you while you grapple with these choices at this crossroads in your life. It is quite likely that the patterns we’ve identified will get played out in our relationship too. For example, I am human and at some point you might fear or expect that I too will leave you or make your choices for you. I invite you to notice any such times and to talk about them in the therapy, so we can understand them and hopefully resolve them together.
I very much look forward to working with you over the next 12 weeks.