Some people do, some don't. I think it can make the difference between spending some time in therapy and truly being in therapy. It's the cheapest way to enhance your experience.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post about journaling and how that enhances your therapy sessions. This blog post is a re-vamp of that previous post (which you can read here >>>) That blog included the pointer included this pointer:"Journalysis: Use a journal to reflect on your sessions and jot down things you notice about yourself during the week. It doesn't have to be the ‘Dear Diary' of your youth, just a place to record a few thoughts or feelings. It may help to bring it to session with you." I'd like to expand on that a little.
Therapy is more than attending a weekly appointment. It's entering into a period of introspection that can last weeks or years. The session is a time where many of the insights and observations happen, but it need not be limited to that hour. In fact, for the best results, it shouldn't (research validating this here). Clients are allowed introspect all they want between sessions, and writing is a great way to focus and articulate their thoughts and feelings.
Not sure what to journal about? Consider one or more of the following:
What was covered in the last session.
What you'd like to discuss in the future.
What you're noticing about yourself this week.
What you'd wish for if you had three wishes.
Your dreams (keep the journal by your bed to get them while they're fresh).
How you feel about therapy and/or the therapist.
What you're feeling and thinking at the very moment you're writing.
Your worries. Your blessings. Your goals. Your memories.
Your writer's block.
The list can go on and on. The main thing is to make it manageable or you won't do it. Many an ambitious therapy journal begin with an elaborate, insightful first entry followed by a paragraph for number two, a scribbled sentence for the third and nothing else. You've got to pace yourself. Keep it simple.
I've seen clients journal by writing three words down on their phone. Others will spend 15 minutes per day writing freestyle. Some use an online journaling program. Still others choose to go with the classic: the leather bound journal and an espresso in a dark corner of the coffee shop. Whatever fits your style.
At the end of each day, look back at what you accomplished, what you learned, what you want to follow-up on tomorrow, and what you want to pursue tomorrow.
It's not so much what you write about but that you take the time to write. Introspection takes practice, which requires time and effort. Bring it to session if you'd like, but just for highlights, not as a script - we don't want to do therapy with your journal. Write as if no one else will ever read it -- if you're writing for an audience you risk getting lost in the performance.
First, you've just taken some time to look at yourself, which continues the flow of therapy and makes you more aware. Second, you've begun to organise what can seem like a bunch of disjointed material. Writing forces you to funnel disparate thoughts into one linear stream. Finally, you're keeping a record of your progress. People who journal for a few months are amazed when they look back to see where they were. Sometimes they're amazed at how far they've come. Other times they're surprised to find they're barking up the same tree.
A note on theory.
Whenever I bring up journaling to my dyed-in-the-wool psychoanalytic colleagues they roll their eyes. Journaling organizes thoughts, while analysis is about sifting through the psychic clutter to reveal traces of the unconscious (via free association). To them, journaling smacks of CBT - they fear token economies and thought logs are soon to follow.
I maintain that journaling can work in harmony with psychodynamic therapy. In the case of classic analysis, the client comes three to five times per week. Part of this frequency is because of the sheer volume of material, part is because of the aim of making the analyst an object in the client's life - to facilitate the projections and transference. But another reason for this frequency is that the regular digging keeps the psyche open. Without a week to rebuild defenses, the walls are down for continuous poking and prodding.
I wouldn't recommend journaling for someone in analysis. They already do plenty of introspection, and yes, journaling might get in the way. But for the weekly client in therapy, journaling can help keep the process rolling, hold the defenses at bay and help the work flow from session to session. If someone spends 50 minutes in therapy Monday, then writes in her journal for a half hour on Wednesday and Friday, come next Monday she's still in the zone and ready to dive in.
This is what I mean by supersizing: journaling helps therapy extend beyond the session. If you forget about your issues for a week and pick them up when you enter the next session, it's likely nothing's changed in the meantime. If you journal in the interim, there's more chance for growth between sessions.
Strategies to Try
Journaling is a highly effective tool for stress relief and can take several forms, so there are multiple options that can work for you. If you already have a favorite journaling habit, by all means, keep it up! But you may want to try something new in addition to it. And if you're new to journaling, here are several practices to try. See what works best for you.
Gratitude Journal: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal where they list three or more aspects of each day for which they are grateful. This is a highly effective strategy for relieving stress because it helps you to focus on the resources you have in your life already and create a more positive mood at the moment, both of which have been shown to build long-term resilience. A bonus benefit is that you are left with a record of the many nice things that have happened throughout your days, so if you're feeling down in the future, you can cheer yourself up with a few pages of reminders for the things you have to appreciate in life.
Emotional Release: You may also write about your emotional responses to events that have happened throughout the day as a way of coping with the stress. This can help you to process what you are feeling and perhaps even explore more positive reframing options. When writing about positive experiences, this allows you the ability to maximize and savor the positive feelings you may have for the good things that have happened in your day. This is also a great way to expand on the positive and manage the negative things that happen in your life, increasing your positivity ratio, which is an important aspect of stress management.
Bullet Journal or Personal Planning Journal: Some people simply keep journals to track what they need to do each day, goals they have, memories they create, and other things they don't want to forget. Because writing things down can help keep your mind uncluttered and help you to remember what's important to you, this can relieve stress as well. Being more organized and balanced is a great way to feel less stressed.
And remember, if you find yourself not keeping a regular schedule with journaling, it's a habit you can resume at any time. You don't have to journal every day in order for it to work for you—a few times a week is still highly beneficial, and even journaling on an as-needed basis brings benefits.1
If you had a journaling habit and stopped because life got in the way, remember—any day is a good day to get back into the habit.
So here's my challenge. Don’t make a huge commitment. Try it for 30 days. Spend just 5- 10 minutes a day reflecting in your journal. When the 30 days are up, go back and review what you’ve learned and the progress you’ve made. Then you can decide if you want to continue journaling. Aim for 5 to 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to do your journaling, ideally the same time every day.
What you write, draw or sketch is completely up to you.
Just sit and write.
Journaling is a practical and accessible way to stay connected to your inner self, your body, your dreams and your purpose in life.