Anja Snellman


Vesa Linna


The Power of Words

Anja Snellman emerged on the literary scene with a bang with her debut novel in 1981. Today, 40 years and 25 novels later, she also relies on the power of words in another professional role: that of a therapist.

Becoming a therapist was originally her plan B.

“I took me seven years to complete my first novel, and at times it seemed that the book would never be published. The rejection letters hurt, and I kept thinking that if I cannot publish my first book, I will become a psychologist and start helping others through their disappointments—others with crushed dreams.”

SNELLMAN COMPLETED her training as a therapist in 2015. Five years earlier, she had seen an advertisement at the university about a four-year program.

“I made an intuitive decision: I applied and didn’t tell a soul. Now I am also working as a therapist. The combination feels natural to me: both writing and counseling are about the human mind,” Snellman explains.

“Sometimes I need a break from being a writer. I don’t like how literature, along with everything else, is being reduced to hype and clickbait entertainment. Occasionally I also get tired of the self-centeredness of being a writer and the ever-gnawing feeling that I should be writing or I will run out of money or let my readers down.”

SNELLMAN RELIES on the power of words in her two professions. The meaning of a single word can be crucial in the work of both an author and a therapist.

“As an author, I believe that language unites us. As a therapist, I know that words can unearth hidden emotions, and the work often involves finding the right words,” Snellman says.

“People can mull over a word for decades; they can remember a specific insult from their childhood, for example. Words from the past can gain weight over the years and cause damage by lending power to depression or anxiety. I think we all remember hurtful words from long ago.”

AS AN AUTHOR, Snellman could be described as being “friend to the undertow,” as Suzanne Vega puts it in one of her songs. Snellman is known for her sensitivity to emerging trends, unspoken truths, and undercurrents that are about to surface in society. In her works, she often discusses the hidden side of life: taboos, sore spots, the anatomy of shame.

As a therapist, she needs to go even deeper, to a private and very personal level. What do you do if someone feels they have absolutely no hope left?

“Listening to stories of survival and loss puts things into perspective. However, no matter what the circumstances, I firmly believe that we have a great deal of self-healing power within us,” Snellman says.

“When someone comes to see a therapist, they have problems, but they also have the solution within them. The role of a therapist is to help them find the solution, so that the therapist eventually becomes unnecessary.”

GENUINE ENCOUNTERS are at the core of helping people. Sometimes even a single experience of being profoundly heard can mark the beginning of a major breakthrough. Snellman feels this is the best aspect of her work as a therapist.

She also seeks interaction and a genuine connection as an author. Sales figures are not important, but if a reader falls in love with a book, the experience is mutually empowering.

“As an author, I can take a stand directly on injustice in society. As a therapist, I’m trying to make the world a better place at the grassroots level by meeting people face to face, human to human. I believe that regardless of their situation, everyone has something in their life that works. Everyone enjoys something, is good at something. We can start from there.”

Anja Snellman was interviewed by Sinikka Luhtasaari

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