Therapeutic Journaling

In therapy, some providers choose to assign homework. This tends to bring up thoughts of a teacher in school assigning homework over winter break, which was horrible news, and I definitely get the apprehension. As my clients are aware, I tend to provide “practical assignments” for homework, meaning instead of providing a worksheet to fill out (unless it’s a thought log), I tend to encourage action utilizing what has been taught in session during the week.

But why assign homework at all? For the same reason teachers assign homework. During therapy, one hour session per week (and for some, therapy occurs less often than that). Therapists assign homework and practical assignments because the point of therapy is to foster positive change, and that requires work in an individual’s life outside of a therapist’s office. Practical assignments can help you to retain the knowledge you’ve gained in a session, or practice a concept to see if it fits your life and communicate clearly to your therapist what didn’t work this time. Using and processing what you’ve learned in session outside of the office is the best way to retain information and engage in the change process, thus getting the most from your therapeutic process. Thus, I am going to provide all of you with a great skill to start practical application of what you’ve learned, among other benefits.

Journaling is a fantastic therapeutic tool. This activity can help gather thoughts, establish goals, process events that happened, and provide documentation of an important change process that can be exciting to review in the future. It’s also a great way to confidentially vent out and process thoughts that you may want to say to a friend or loved one, then be able to address the concerns with them in the way you would prefer to.

Getting started can be challenging. How to you write in a journal? What do you write about? Well let me tell you something very important about journaling: There is no wrong way to use your journal. You can be creative and artistic. You can be more detail-oriented and create lists. You can tell a story, or just free write whatever thoughts come into your head. You can go with a digital format or traditional pen and paper.

Here are some tips to help get you started:

  • Choose Your Journaling Style: This does not have to be set in stone. However, it may help to decide which method of journaling works best for you, at least in the moment. Here are some ideas for different styles:
    • Creative Journaling: This method is a lot of fun, because the opportunities are very much limitless. Use scrap paper, magazines, paint, and multiple supplies to express yourself artistically as well as via language. There are various examples online, and I highly recommend The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself by Linda Cappachione to help in starting this process.
    • Bullet Journaling: This method of journaling assists in organization when it comes to things to do, like tasks, notes, projects, and events. This can be helpful therapeutically as a form of self-care, as we can feel so busy with our brains being so full of ideas, thoughts, and needs that bullet journaling can help resolve. I definitely see this method being helpful in addressing anxiety. Here’s the how-to guide.
    • Free Writing: Often used by writers to assist in challenging writer’s block, free writing allows for challenging judgmental thinking, as the point is to write whatever comes to mind, and review for key themes and ideas. This can be helpful in preparing to come to therapy, as you may learn areas you may want to address in session, and this is highly encouraged.
    • Prompts: Sometimes we can be so blocked in our thoughts, it can be helping to have an idea, or writing prompt, to get us started. The internet is full of writing prompts, which can easily be found by a simple search. Another method for this is to create a journal jar, from which each time you journal, you draw an idea from your jar randomly.
    • Don’t limit yourself to just these ideas! Feel free to take an idea as a starting point and adjust for what works for you.
  • Choose Your MediumDo you want your journal to be digital? Are you more traditional and prefer a composition book or themed/decorated journal? Would you like to be more creative and use a sketchbook to create a journal? Or would you even like to make your own? The possibilities are endless, but be sure to treat yourself and take some time setting up a digital journal you will enjoy, or purchase yourself a new book with your favorite pens/art supplies, or colorful paper and a jar if you choose to try the journal jar method.
  • Set a Time and Place: It can be difficult to journal when you are in an area with frequent interruptions. Pick a time that works best for you when you can prevent interruptions, such as before bed. If you can, turn off/silence your phone for the time you intend to journal. Also, make sure the place you are journaling will have minimal interruptions as well. If your home is busy, perhaps try journaling in a coffee shop or nearby library. If it’s a nice day (hopefully those are starting to show up more here in Seattle!), go outside to a park or other place where you can also spend time in nature and getting some of that mood-boosting Vitamin D. Find a time and place in which you feel most inspired and able to connect with those challenging thoughts that come up.
  • Avoid Judgment! Your thoughts and emotions are your thoughts and emotions. They are real as you are experiencing them. Therefore, watch out for that negative self-talk about your experience. Also, life gets busy and it can be hard to do this daily. Don’t set an expectation of yourself in regard to your journaling that will likely not be met. This is your process, and you get to set the rules.
  • Talk to Your Therapist: Of course your journal is private and your own. However, if you are seeing a therapist, bring up ideas and key themes you find in your journaling process. Sometimes this process can bring up some upsetting content, and it can be helpful to process that as part of your therapeutic growth process.

Hopefully this helps! Do you have any additional ideas or thoughts about how to get started with journaling? Feel free to share with others in the comments!








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