Writing to Heal: How to Use Therapeutic Journaling to Improve Mental Health and Well-Being

If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or down, why not try therapeutic journaling? While it is not a replacement for therapy, it is one tool that can help you to sort through your feelings and thoughts, relieve stress and anxiety and provide insight and clarity.

Journaling or diary writing as a means of telling our “stories” has been used by many for decades, however, it is only since the 1930’s that we first started to see the emergence of books and papers that spoke about journal writing as a tool for personal development. Since this time, journal writing has become a well-known resource and tool in the fields of mental health and personal development, so much so that a therapeutic modality known as “Journal Therapy” has been developed based on the effectiveness of it as a therapeutic intervention.

Journal writing is defined as the conscious and deliberate use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Reflective journal writing is basically the process of writing down our thoughts, emotions and experiences with the purpose of bringing about change, healing and growth.

Reflective journal writing is vastly different to traditional diary writing. Diary writing is typically the recording of daily events and experiences. It is known as product writing as the goal of diary writing is to create a finishing product which tells a story. Therapeutic journaling is about digging a little deeper; writing in a manner that aids us to make sense of our internal experiences, learn, and gain new perspectives on our difficulties. Writing about our thoughts and feelings allows us to express them in a way that can support us in working through challenges and moving forward.

Scientific research has shown that engaging in journaling can benefit us in many ways. In relation to physical health, engaging in journaling has shown to result in fewer visits to the GP, improved immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure and better sleep. In relation to mental and emotional health, benefits include: decreased stress and anxiety, increased ability to regulate emotions, increased feelings of happiness, contentment and joy, increased resiliency and problem solving ability, and increased motivation and productivity! If this isn’t enough reasons to begin journaling, some other reasons for keeping a journal include:

  1. A journal is a huge support that is free if cost and is available 24 hours a day
  2. A journal helps you to understand, express and release emotions
  3. A journal is a major support that does not rely on the availability of other people or their willingness to listen
  4. A journal helps you to get to know yourself – your thoughts, beliefs and feelings – more deeply
  5. A journal helps you to find your voice and to give voice to the previously unknown, unspeakable or unacknowledged
  6. A journal helps you to develop insight, clarity and awareness about your life, your behaviours, your difficulties, and your relationships.
  7. A journal can contain uncomfortable states and feelings such as anger, rage, grief, sadness, ambiguity or indecision and make them more bearable
  8. A journal can be a rehearsal platform for events, conversations, and life itself which helps to ameliorate anticipatory anxiety.

Some tips on how to keep a therapeutic journal

There is no right or wrong way to do therapeutic journaling. Whatever you write IS right. Everyone develops their own unique style when doing therapeutic journaling. Allow yourself to experiment until you find your own flow. Remember, your journal is for you and for you alone, no one else will be reading your words. Give yourself permission to write authentically without holding anything back in order to get the best results.

Use acronym WRITE

What will you write about? Choose your topic.

Review/ Reflect on it. Give yourself some time to fully connect with the issue at hand. It can help to first focus by taking a few deep breaths until you are in touch with your self.

Investigate your thoughts, feelings and current experience. Start writing and keep writing, do not judge, just let your thoughts and emotions flow as they come. Maybe you will be inspired to challenge certain thoughts as you see them appear on the paper- just write whatever comes to your mind.

Time yourself. It may help to start by writing within specific timeframes, at least at first. For instance, try for 5, 10 or 15 minutes straight. You can increase the timed writing sessions as you go.

Exit. Make the most out of your writing session by rereading what you have just written down and further reflecting and evaluating it with a couple concluding sentences. That’s a way to take the zest of it with you.

Sample prompts for a therapeutic journal

A prompt for your therapeutic journaling may help you get your creativity flowing. Here are just a few to think about when beginning:

  • What are your five favourite qualities about yourself?
  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has had a positive impact on your life.
  • List out three of the best compliments you’ve ever received.
  • Describe something positive in your life that you didn’t have five years ago.
  • Write a letter of forgiveness to someone in your life who has caused you pain.
  • Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself for past actions you’re not proud of.  

Journal writing is a fantastic tool that can help you to develop your relationship with yourself and bring about immense healing and growth. If you are interested in journaling, why not give it a go? However, caution must be noted, if you have experienced trauma, journaling should be approached cautiously. It can create more distress if not undertaken with the help of a mental health professional. If you would like to journal, it’s best to discuss in therapy first.

If you are attending therapy, therapeutic journaling can be a major support. Journaling can help you to continue to do the therapeutic work in between sessions and in many cases can help to speed up the therapeutic process and change.

Online video course “Writing to Heal: An Introduction to Therapeutic Journaling” now available to buy for €35 today under Online Courses Section. This 2.5 hour online video course gives you an in-depth introduction to therapeutic journaling and shows you how to begin using journaling as a tool for self-discovery, healing and personal development!