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Therapeutic Writing: Can journaling be therapeutic?

I realize that journaling is not for everyone and writing things down sounds scary to some. “What if someone finds my journal and reads it?” My response to that point is that we keep much more important information in our phones. Keeping a running notes document with some of your thoughts and feelings should not be an idea we reject without really thinking about the possible benefits of doing it. So if we can just get over the hump of saying “it’s not for me,” I think what you might discover is a new approach to use with yourself that just might be beneficial.


Let’s just treat it like an experiment and try it out.

However, I will say that I don’t recommend journaling to all of my clients. The reason that I don’t, besides the fact that most resist the idea, is because I don’t think journaling in a free associative way is always helpful. As someone who has done that for years, I can tell you, sometimes it can help, but most of the time it leads to more rumination and spiraling… which has not been helpful for me. In the same way that not all therapy is therapeutic (topic for another day), not all journaling is good for our mind, body, and spirit.


If you know anything about talk therapy, these things will not surprise you because… what can be therapeutic about psychotherapy is what can be therapeutic about writing. I’m not trying to say that writing can replace therapy. Please don’t misunderstand me. More on that later.


So here are my suggestions for writing in a way that may have some positive effects on one’s mental health and well-being:


1. Create a safe space …Prepare a space in your life somewhere for you to write and think. Set yourself up for success as best you can by surrounding yourself with things that help you to feel settled. Grab a hot tea or tasty treat, turn on some soothing music or sounds, put on your favorite yoga pants, get under your weighted blanket, sit in your favorite spot in your house by the window or fireplace, etc. Do and have the things that allow you to slow down. Breathe deeply. In and of itself creating this space for yourself is therapeutic. So even if you stopped here, I believe this would be beneficial to you. Also be aware that the goal is not to fall asleep so don’t get too comfy, although if it happens, it happens and your body told you what you really needed. Point being that if you’re serious about this process, creating a space that is conducive to writing is going to help you as you move through these other suggestions.


2. Start small … Small meaning giving yourself permission to write very little, write messy or nonsensical, write for 2 minutes, or don’t write anything but think about what you would write. Even without doing the first one (create a safe space), start small. Let’s say you’re a busy working mom who doesn’t have time or space to create calm and peace. You can still start small. When you’re driving to soccer practice or waiting in the parking lot to pick one up from karate and you think about what you would write in a journal, you’re in a writing process. Writers often think about what they are going to write during random times of the day and they may write down a phrase or word that they don’t want to forget and that will prompt them to write more later. Maybe keep notecards in the car or your purse for that purpose or use an app on your phone. By starting small, you allow yourself to take away pressure to do it right.


3. Enjoy the process. Writing is a process. This is something I am learning and trying to remind myself. Even in starting my blog posts and these writing prompts that I’m really excited to share with the world, I have started and not finished many. I often think about wanting to write. I imagine myself sitting down with a giant hot mug of coffee to write by hand and come up with things I want to spend more time thinking about or stories I would tell. When I’m reading, I’m often thinking about writing and how much I like or dislike how something is written. When people say, “If you want to be a writer, you need to read more.” I truly believe it is because reading puts you in the process of thinking like a writer. Like a creator. And all of it is part of the process that will eventually become something else entirely when it is finished, if it’s ever finished. Opening ourselves up to imagine and think and explore is something we often don’t have space for in a productivity-driven and money-making society. I would argue that being in this writing process, enjoying it as you go through it, is what is beautiful and transformative about it.


4. Be curious about yourself without judgment. Another way of saying this is to practice mindfulness. Being mindful of what is happening within ourselves without judgement will do wonders for you whether you write or not. You may even learn to like yourself.


5. Stay focused. I suggest that you use some sort of anchor, topic, or goal, so that we aren’t just randomly writing down thoughts without any purpose mindlessly. I do enjoy the free flowing, stream of consciousness part though. I enjoy just writing with no end goal in sight other than to write out my thoughts. So even if you’re like me and that’s what you decide to do, I suggest that you go back and read it later. Get it all down and then go back and re-read it. Either right away or the next day. Reflect on what your mind was doing. Another way to help with staying focused is to use journal or writing prompts.


6. Share it. Eeeek! Here is the hard part… and I hesitate even saying it because once I say it I can’t take it back and it will make all the previous suggestions much more difficult. I’m not saying to walk around reading your journal to everyone. If a question or prompt is interesting to you, ask your friends the same questions. Share with them how you would answer it. You may end up getting to know yourself or someone else on a deeper or different level. And I guess here is the potentially scary part: they may end up understanding more of you. So I encourage you to use the prompts I share with you to start conversations with people who are safe, caring, and curious in your life.


Journaling cannot replace therapy. What is mainly and largely helpful about therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist. It is in being seen, being heard, being cared for in new, healthy, and stable ways that transformation and growth are possible. And because of that growth we are able to be more open and healthy in other relationships. Journaling when done in this way can be pretty powerful. I think about it as another helpful tool to help us deepen and grow in still some pretty important ways.

If you are struggling in ways that impact your ability to function in your life or just feel that “doing it alone” is not working anymore, please seek out help, professional or otherwise. Journal writing is not meant to replace professional treatment, medication, holistic intervention, or medical care.


May we write in ways that transform and renew our mind, heart, body, and soul.

Much <3

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