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Dear Journal.......The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing

Man Journaling

I never really kept a journal growing up. I never knew what to write and so wasn’t consistent with it. But, now, as a psychotherapist, I see numerous therapeutic benefits to writing and frequently encourage my clients to give it a try. It's a fantastic tool as a compliment to therapy or on it's own.

While people have been journaling for thousands of years, it didn’t start to become incorporated into therapy until around the 1960’s. New York Psychologist, Ira Progoff, PhD, began offering classes in what he referred to as the intensive journal method. This method involves writing exercises about different areas of your life, to help you get to know yourself better, so you can more effectively work through issues. As the popularity of journaling continued to become more widespread, psychologist James Pennebaker, PhD, a current professor at The University of Texas, (‘Hook em!!) conducted research that illustrated physical and mental benefits of journaling. His research showed that people who wrote about events or emotions for 20 minutes a day for just three or four days had better immune system function and better ability to tolerate stress.

With his research, the popularity of therapeutic journaling continued to grow.  It’s often referred to as writing therapy, expressive disclosure, or written disclosure therapy. Therapeutic journaling is different from simply listing out the events of each day. It’s intentional about expressing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that helps to make sense of them and gain new perspectives. Journaling encourages reflection and introspection. Although Dr. Pennebaker has recommendations for how to journal therapeutically, there are no hard and fast rules. You can even incorporate art in your journaling if you feel inclined.

art journaling

There is clear evidence that journaling helps a number of areas including:

  1. Reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms

  2. Reduced depression and trauma-related symptoms in children with ptsd 

  3. Enhanced sleep quality and memory consolidation

  4. Improved ability to set and achieve goals

  5. Increased creativity and decision-making

If you want to begin the habit of journaling but aren’t sure where to start, here are some of my favorite prompts:
  1. Write about an emotion you’re feeling currently, without judging yourself.

  2. Describe a challenge you’re facing and how it feels in your body, without trying to fix or change it.

  3. What went well today/what are you proud of today?

  4. Write down how anxiety has shaped you into who you are today.

  5. Rate your current mental health on a scale of 1-10. Why do you think it is this way?

  6. What does body-acceptance mean to me?

  7. What would you do if you loved yourself unconditionally? How can you act on these things whether you do or don’t?

  8. What is an impossible standard you’re holding yourself to? How can you adjust that standard to be more realistic?

  9. What are my goals? Are my goals in line with my values?

  10.  What are two things you have learned this week?

So, if you haven’t yet, try out the therapeutic benefits of writing and give journaling a chance! It can provide you with a safe space for self-reflection and exploration.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
– William Wordsworth
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