Journaling enables the writer to try various techniques that can lead to self-discovery through a process of expression and reflection. The diary is a place where you can express yourself without inhibition: feelings, thoughts, worries, dreams, fantasies, and goals; to recognize and alter self-defeating habits of the mind, and come to know and feel compassion for who you really are. Journaling helps you understand and resolve your past, discover joy in the present, and aid you in creating your own future. It’s a way to nourish your soul with self-acceptance; a nonthreatening place to work out relationships with others; to rehearse future behaviors; and to explore the “shadowy”, unknown parts of self.
The Therapy Journal
I encourage my clients to keep a therapy journal while we work together. Sometimes there is a temptation to get lazy in therapy and want the counselor to provide all the support needed. But you must ultimately develop these skills yourself. The use of a therapy journal will help assure that you truly learn from our time together. It will become a place to develop and practice new life skills as you develop and fine-tune alternative ways of observing, thinking, and coping with your inner and outer world. Journaling is the fastest and most effective way I know to become self-aware, and therefore, facilitate personal growth and positive change.
To begin, I ask clients to write a summary after each session. Start with jotting your impressions of the session. It can include the content discussed, feelings you experienced, and even your judgments of the quality of the session. These summaries will help you sift through insights and feelings that occurred during and after the therapeutic hour. You can record some of your therapist’s insights and go back and review the advice when needed, integrating and reinforcing the healing process. You can also write about issues that came up and weren’t examined during the therapeutic hour and explore them more fully on your own.
Also, bring your journal to each appointment to jot notes that you can expand upon later. In therapy, we are often doing deeper work that you may “forget” when you leave the office. Jotting notes provide the reminder.
Other Moments to write about
Sometimes a wish to explore an insight or feeling cannot wait for an appointment. By writing about it in your diary the insight or feeling can be captured when it occurs. (The energy of these experiences has often dissipated by the time you have another appointment, and you might wrongly dismiss it as no big deal). Writing when the topic is hot can also help you track any possible rhythms of thoughts and emotions. You can also use these writings to get a sense of what needs attention during the next session.
The therapy journal will also serve as a sort of ‘timeline’ where you can review earlier writings. This practice will reveal the often hard-to-see progress you made over time (as well as any continued patterns of unhealthy thinking).
Other times, in addition to a summary I may ask my client to practice various skills we’re working on (i.e., the Awareness Wheel, imaginary conversations, inner child work) – writing assignments that will facilitate new skills or evoke fresh insights.
A good therapist may demonstrate HOW to nurture, support, and guide you, but ultimately the central relationship in the diary is to be with yourself, and it is precisely this active, positive relationship with self that therapy works to facilitate.
A few Guidelines
- Privacy: Keep your journal in a safe, private place. Confidentiality is important, as it will allow you to be honest and express yourself freely without thoughts of judgment from others. You may want to share certain passages or drawings with people you trust. But be selective and avoid showing your work to anyone who tends to judge you.
- Setting and time: Create a quiet, comfortable place, ideally where you will not be interrupted or distracted. For some people this is difficult to do. If that is the case, then figuring out how to create privacy for yourself will be an important step in your own growth. Reserve a block of at least 15 minutes when you decide to write. Date each entry and keep them in chronological order.
- Write spontaneously: Allow yourself to follow your intuition. Write quickly and allow the unexpected to happen. If you find you are struggling to write, you are probably trying to come across a certain way. Write as you speak: Do not concern yourself with spelling, punctuation, or grammar. This only inhibits spontaneity and engages the inner-critic.
If you have an inspiration and your journal is not available, write on anything you can find! You can then paste, tape, or staple it in your journal later. This will be helpful when you look back over your work to see your progress and evolution.
- Materials – Some believe your paper should be at least 5×7 so you can write LARGE when excited or angry, or small when sad or quiet. You also may draw sometimes, and/or use crayons. I prefer an 8-x11 notebook with three sections. The first section might be the “Therapy Journal” described above; the next section could be devoted to “Inner-Child Dialogue”, and the final section might be used for certain assignments, like the “Unsent Letter”, Awareness Wheel practice, dialogues, the Worksheet expansions, etc.
“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do.
Even if we already have a mother, we still have to
find this part of ourselves inside.”
~ Sue Monk Kidd