Therapeutic journalingThe idea of therapeutic journaling often provokes mixed feelings — love because you can make it look pretty and hate because you know that it’s about dealing with the tough, uncomfortable stuff.

If you’ve ever opened a Google search and typed something like, “How to be okay again” or “how to cope with stress and trauma” or “how to get myself together again”, you’re not alone. No matter how broken or wrecked you feel, the fact that you are looking for ways to help yourself shows that you have not given up.

It’s a good start. This blog post will show you how to use therapeutic journaling in ways that suit you, your style, and your needs.

About The Author

For starters, I’ll use this post for some therapeutic confession, if you will. I’m a writer — I do copywriting for a living, so I rarely have a shortage of words and ideas. But, when it comes to penning my pain, it’s like a bloody wrestling match.

I sometimes have this fear that whatever I write in my journal will make whatever I’m struggling with real if it’s not real yet, or more real than I feel able to cope with. Truthfully, I’m terrible at doing consistent therapeutic writing.

My other excuses include the things that fill up my time (and my mind) like parenting, homeschooling two young children, working full-time, and having a partner with life-threatening, untreatable heart failure. See why I should write more?

That said, there have been times in the past three years where I grabbed a pen or my phone to pour out some gut-wrenching poetry to express my feelings just so I could breathe. It works in those moments. Somehow, oxygen and words are related…

What Type Of Therapy Is Journaling?

Journaling is a type of therapeutic writing where you focus on getting your troubles out of your heart and mind so that you can look at it, reflect on it, put it in perspective, and figure out how to move forward.

For some, it’s a way to figure out what you are feeling and thinking to begin with. It’s a process that may involve your therapist or you can do it on your own. It doesn’t replace your therapist when you really need to see one but writing as therapy comes pretty close in effectiveness.

Therapeutic journaling

You determine what you want to get out of therapeutic writing, and how — you can keep it super basic to start with or combine it with expressive art using colors, pictures, collage, etc.

How Does Creative Writing Help Mental Health?

There are so many studies on the benefits of writing, it’s well worth looking up. For this post, I’ll give you a shortlist of some of the key benefits:

  • Therapeutic writing helps improve mental health because you are getting the things that happened to you, out of your system. Once it’s written down, you can start sorting through your feelings about difficult events and put them into perspective.
  •  It’s a way to let go of secrets that can make you sick. On paper, you can process pain in an external way and construct a meaningful narrative from it.
    Improve depression and anxiety, slow down racing thoughts.
  • Accelerate physical healing and even improve your immune system function.
  • Increase your ability to cope with chronic health challenges.
  • Improve your communication skills, especially in difficult relationships.

If you want to feel better about yourself, your life, and the world around you, writing about it all is a cheap, accessible, and proven way to start being okay again. As the English novelist and journalist Graham Greene said, “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic, and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

How Do You Start a Therapeutic Journal?

Therapeutic journalingIf you can’t bring yourself to splurge on a pretty journal or notebook for fear you won’t actually use it, then just buy the plainest, cheapest notebook you can find. Something with only 72 pages or less. Make it yours and print or cut out a picture to put on the cover. Starting small and simple is key to making it work.

On the other hand, if you feel the opposite and would rather be inspired by a beautiful journal or notebook, buy one. Get a nice gel rollerball pen or some markers as well and set out to have fun. Expressive writing therapy doesn’t have to be all black pen, dark doodles, and tears. Add some color!

Set yourself the tiny goal of just writing a single paragraph a day. It’s easy enough to commit to that. The idea is to just get you started. You’ll probably write more than that soon enough.

Write whatever you think of first, or whatever you wish you could tell someone without being judged or criticized. Therapeutic writing is an opportunity to be safely, brutally honest, to your advantage.

Tip: If you’re afraid someone will read your journal, you can also use an online app version that you can secure with a password. (Or just burn whatever you’ve written on paper for an extra dash of closure therapy.)

Is Journaling Better Than Therapy?

In some ways, yes and no.

Yes, because it puts the responsibility for working on your healing where it should be — in your hands. It’s an empowering feeling when you start making progress on working through things and realizing you’re doing it yourself.

On the flip side, it’s not a replacement for situations where a therapist is necessary for the healing process, such as working through violence-related trauma, abuse, and loss, for instance. It is good to have a therapist who is objective, experienced, and able to help you think about your thinking when you need support.

Therapeutic journaling

That said, there’s no reason you can’t have both! For instance, you can share some of your writing with your therapist when you’re working through trauma that’s hard to talk about.

Creative Writing Methods That I Found Most Helpful

The benefits of consistent therapeutic writing are huge. But I’ve always been a bit of a rule-breaker and I find that writing for healing right when I need it most is when I get the most satisfaction. If I try and force the therapeutic effect, it doesn’t seem to work as well.

Other tricks that help me get started when I feel stuck in my head include:

Looking at beautiful random pictures on free stock picture sites such as Pexels, Pixabay, or Unsplash. Pictures can help spark feelings and words that I need and/or want to write about.

  • Writing poetry — this method is effective because poetry is about using the fewest words possible to say what you really want to say. You can dump all your feelings in your journal and then strip it down to the core when you compile a poem.
  • Pens or markers that are fun and comfortable to write with — part of what makes writing so therapeutic is the multi-sensory experience. You combine touching pen and paper with the sound that your pen or marker makes, and the thoughts in your head. You can use pencils if you prefer that sound instead. Gel ballpoint pens, and markers that lend themselves to some calligraphic writing, are my favorites.
  • Writing late at night or early morning — I’m a natural night owl with a busy household. At night, once the kids are asleep and all is quiet, I do my best thinking and reflecting.
  • Use your anger. This may sound strange, but anger is a powerful emotion — it can spark the energy and motivation you need to finally write down everything that’s bothering you in your journal. I’m less motivated when I’m sad or worried. But anger is a multi-layered emotion that holds plenty of pain and sadness underneath. Once I start unpacking it, I can work on more issues that bother me.
  • Start with gratitude. Even if this is all you write about to start doing therapeutic writing, it’s worth it. Focusing your mind on the positive is part of the end goal.
  • Writing to a person. This is especially helpful when I’m sorting out a conflict. I can get clarity on what I want and need to say.
  • Prayer. This is an old favorite of mine. Praying with pen on paper helps me reconnect spiritually to my source of strength when I’m struggling.

Where To Get Therapeutic Writing Prompts

Daily life is full of inspiration. Write about what you did today, what happened, and how you felt about it. Write the thoughts that are rambling on in the back of your mind whenever you get a minute’s peace.

Write about what you want for your future, how you want to feel, where you want to be and what you want to do. Explore it in depth. This is a powerful exercise that’s proven to help you achieve your dreams.

Start with your childhood and write down everything you’ve been through. A little bit at a time, until you’ve caught up with the present day. It can also serve as a record of your life and memories for your family if you wish.

You can also lookup therapeutic writing prompts online and use that for inspiration.

Try Therapeutic Writing For Yourself

I hope you are feeling inspired to try out therapeutic writing for yourself. Writing this piece has certainly rebooted my motivation to do it again because life gets so hectic that I occasionally forget I’m a person and not a machine on autopilot. When it catches up with me, I’m a mess.

Life is crazy, wonderful, uncertain, and unpredictable (thanks for the reminder, 2020). But when you start turning to pen and paper, it’s a small way of taking back control. You can get a hold of your thoughts, feelings, and decide how you will handle the things you can’t control, instead of just giving in to whatever happens.

Even if you only pick up your journal once a week to remind yourself of things to be grateful for and to tell yourself that you’ll get through whatever it is you’re facing, it’s worth it.

Author Bio

Heideli Loubser is a direct-response copywriter and a content marketing strategist helping health professionals and coaches grow their business while they focus on helping their clients get well. She is also a homeschool blogging mom of two kiddos. When she’s not wielding her powerful pen to help businesses and other parents, she enjoys gardening, painting, caffeine, and scrolling on TikTok.

By Published On: May 11, 2021Categories: Writer Development

Share This