Tips for Therapeutic Journal Writing
Keeping a journal can be a hobby, an organizational tool for creative thought; some people even use journal writing to stay on track with new diet and exercise routines. Journal writing can also be a therapeutic tool, providing a safe and private medium for self-expression. The practice of writing down daily events, thoughts, and emotions is a healthy practice for everyone; it is often recommended for people in recovery from addiction and mental illnesses. Journal writing focused on emotional content, like thoughts and feelings, is often referred to as expressive journal writing. Expressive journal writing is highly therapeutic. There is an ever-growing body of research supporting the physical and psychological benefits of expressive journal writing.
What are some therapeutic benefits of expressive journal writing?
- Researchers at Syracuse University studying expressive journal writing have found evidence suggesting that it can boost immune functioning in those suffering from HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.
- According to the online psychology journal, BJPscych Advances, studies have also found longer-term benefits of expressive writing for emotional health outcomes, including mood, sense of well-being, depressive symptoms, and the intrusion of negative thoughts.
- Provides a way to practice positive self-talk
- Helps organize one’s thoughts and emotions related to past traumas; it also helps in examining current conflicts and struggles, including those faced during sobriety maintenance and addiction recovery.
The How-To’s of Therapeutic Journal Writing
Research has shown that not all journal writing is significantly therapeutic; to be significantly therapeutic, the benefit of journal writing must be enduring and meaningful. For example, simply writing about a past-trauma without focusing on insight or finding meaning can increase negative feelings toward the event because the writer is unable to work through and process the event. Expressive journal writing is a specific way of writing that can be learned but needs to be practiced to be effective. Here are some important tips, based on research, to therapeutic journal writing:
- Limit writing time to 15-20 minutes
- Focus on content, not grammar or spelling
- Many people report traditional journal writing, with pen-and-paper, feels more personal than using a computer, which tends to feel more removed from one’s emotions
- Focus on emotional states of the here-and-now; research has shown that recounting past traumas through the same emotional perspective can trigger distress and increase negative feelings
- Use the writing to find positive aspects of negative past experiences; incorporate words and phrases like, “since” or “because” and “I learned”, “I realized”.
Sometimes the hardest thing in writing is simply getting started. If you want to make expressive journal writing a part of your daily routine, you may need to get creative in choosing a topic to write about. Try finding a daily quote from Facebook or Twitter that might inspire thoughts or memories of interest, or use the lyrics of a meaningful song and explore your interpretation or how it applies to your own life and experiences.