These Three Words by Jess Van der Hoech
These Three Words is a short novel about a teenage girl named Luna-Ray who struggles with severe anxiety. After panicking and running out of school, she is sent to therapy. The story tells about her experiences of going to therapy, practicing the skills she learns there, and living life as she begins to better manage her anxiety.
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About the author:
Jess van der Hoech is a therapist with a private practice in the UK that is focused on trauma. Many of the interventions she described, she picked up from the Just What We Need program where she trained. She is also the co-author of What A Muddle. You can learn more about her here.
What we love:
These Three Words is a sweet story that many teens can relate to. I generally decline requests to review fiction but in this case I think it works. I see a lot of value for teens in reading a story that explains the experience of therapy. Throughout her sessions, Luna shares her thoughts and feelings about the process and about her therapist. I thought it was normalizing of what many of our clients are experiencing.
One thing that I didn’t expect but really enjoyed was the way coping skills are seamlessly woven throughout the book. Several different techniques for managing anxiety are described in enough detail that they can be copied without it sounding clinical or forced. Readers can walk away from this with several practical skills that they can try on their own.
What we didn’t:
There were times when the writing was clunky but the one thing that really bothered me about These Three Words was the way all of Luna’s fears ended up being unfounded. I worry that this could create unhealthy expectations or cause people to struggle when the thing they are afraid of happens. For example, Luna-Ray is afraid that her friends will reject her when she tells them about her anxiety but they respond perfectly. That is what we always hope for but it isn’t what always happens.
Obviously anxiety creates irrational fears but it also amplifies legitimate ones and we have to address that with our clients.
I think this is a great book for teens or tweens who are anxious about starting therapy. While I would be careful about recommending it to clients with trauma, it would be an excellent recommendation for many adolescents to read while they are waitlisted for services.
Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.