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A Great Barrington therapist explores grief, vulnerability, and hope through Instagram

Allyson Dinneen, a therapist based in Great Barrington, published "Notes From Your Therapist" in January.
Allyson Dinneen, a therapist based in Great Barrington, published "Notes From Your Therapist" in January.Daniel Karp

Allyson Dinneen started her Instagram account after the loss of her husband. The Great Barrington-based therapist was writing a lot, in her journal, on her laptop, on napkins and stray pieces of paper, just trying to figure out how to grieve. Taking pictures of her thoughts and sharing them on Instagram was a way for her to advocate for vulnerability, both in herself and her followers.

“Our world is so deeply uncomfortable with difficult and painful emotions,” said Dinneen, 56. “I wanted to write about it and talk about it, because it made a difference.”

Dinneen began to post as @notesfromyourtherapist in 2017 and she’s cultivated a community of comfort and vulnerability with her daily handwritten reflections and affirmations. Her short notes sometimes show her own insights, “Sometimes I just need someone to listen who’s not in a hurry,” or pieces of advice for worrying minds. “You haven’t failed if you haven’t made someone else happy. People are allowed to feel unhappy.”

Now, with more than 1,500 posts and 334,000 followers, Dinneen continues to share her comforting and uplifting words, with that blue verified checkmark by her username.

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She even wrote a book about it. Dinneen’s “Notes From Your Therapist,” from HMH, debuted in January, echoing the same type of handwritten, heartfelt advice found on her Instagram.

”In the very, very beginning, I would write on something and people would ask how they can read more or how they can learn more about one particular thing,” like grief or how to self-reflect, Dinneen said.

Dinneen’s never cared about how many followers she has. She self-published her first book featuring a collection of her favorite notes when there were only 1,500 people following the account.

“That was really popular, people seemed to like it, which was totally surprising,” said Dinneen. “So then a year later, an agent reached out to me and said, ‘I saw your book and it looks like you could find a publisher.’”

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Allyson Dinneen's book, "Notes From Your Therapist," echoes the type of handwritten, heartfelt advice found on her Instagram account.
Allyson Dinneen's book, "Notes From Your Therapist," echoes the type of handwritten, heartfelt advice found on her Instagram account.HMH Books

So, Dinneen got to work.

Putting together the book has been surreal, Dinneen said. Especially when she thinks about why she started the account in the first place. After her mother died in an airplane crash when Dinneen was an infant, her family didn’t talk about their grief. They didn’t talk about her mom or the accident or anything at all. That, Dinneen said, was more harmful than the discomfort of conversation.

And when her husband died in 2008, leaving her with their infant child, writing became a way to mourn and process and confront her feelings.

“I stopped doing therapy for several years, and I really never thought I was going to be a therapist again,” said Dinneen. “I had been writing to recover, and then when I started thinking about going back to work, I wanted to let people know what kind of therapist I was.”

Dinneen hopes the book gives readers what has been so helpful for her healing process: permission to feel.

“Everyone has all the same emotions, but people don’t talk about it,” said Dinneen. “So we think we’re all isolated and that no one else feels this way. But everyone does. I hope the book will help people feel less shame about struggling when things are hard in life.”


Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at natachi.onwuamaegbu@globe.com.