How Journaling Heals: There’s No ‘Write’ Way to Journal

Vintage journal and fountain penWords have power, so it follows that the process of journaling does, too. It’s a tool I often recommend to the people who see me for therapy.

Some situations in which journaling might be helpful include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed: The process of writing down all that’s on your mind can help you organize your thoughts and prioritize. Once you identify all that you’re dealing with, you can choose where to focus your time and energy, whether to delegate, and what to delete in the short term.
  • Feeling overcome by an emotion (anger, frustration, sadness) and not really knowing why: Ever feel a shift within your emotional self and not really be aware of the cause? Putting pen to paper and recounting what came before can help you discover what the triggers may have been. Once you know what precedes emotional turbulence, you can begin to develop strategies for preventing it and coping with it effectively.
  • Processing grief or loss: Writing can help you recall memories you want to hold on to. It can also help you work through the anger and disappointment associated with loss. Journaling the things you might not have had the chance to say but wish you had can be incredibly therapeutic as well.
  • Figuring out next steps: Have a big goal but uncertain how to reach it? We don’t always know the precise path from A to Z, but mapping out the next step or two can be enough to move us in the right direction. The steps that come later will then become apparent.
  • Discovering themes or patterns in behavior: If you are someone who already journals regularly, you might find, in reviewing what you’ve written, there are things that come up on a regular basis that need to be addressed, or ways in which you respond to situations that you might be able to preempt by being more proactive and aware.
  • Externalizing negative thoughts and feelings: Writing down “poisonous” thoughts and feelings can help you feel less controlled and bound by them.
  • Determining how best to communicate with others: Journaling can be means of preparing for what might be a challenging conversation. Writing down precisely what you want to express and how you want to say it can help you collect your thoughts, rehearse, and hold true to your intention when you speak your piece.

Sometimes people share that they’ve thought about journaling but never moved forward with it. When I explore why that is, it’s often because they saw it as a chore or obligation, something that had to be done the “right” way.

However, there is no right way to journal. The key is to utilize this tool in the way that will work best for you.

You might choose to buy a beautiful book with empty pages, but you could just as easily grab a notecard, a yellow legal pad, or a piece of printer paper and begin.

You need not worry about writing regularly. There’s no rule that says you have to record things daily. Write when you believe it might serve you, not because of an arbitrary “should” that you or someone else has placed on you.

You have the option of sharing what you’ve journaled with others or keeping it private. You decide. You make the rules.

There is no requirement to write full sentences. You can jot down thoughts as they come to you. You can scribble them all over the page if you want and draw lines connecting those that are related to one another, literally connecting the dots of your thoughts in a deliberate way.

Another therapeutic way to journal is to vent on paper all that you are upset about so that you have a sense of expelling that negativity. Give yourself permission to be as “ugly” in these rants as you want so you have the opportunity to empty yourself of toxic thoughts and feelings. Many people resist this at first, fearing others might discover about them what they’ve been trying to hide. In that case, I suggest symbolically ridding yourself of those thoughts and feelings by ripping up the words or shredding them. This act alone can be a powerful one, a moment of triumph over something that was possibly poisoning you from within.

Sometimes people struggle to find the words to express themselves accurately. I encourage such people to draw or sketch what comes to mind. Scribble if need be. Let the pen flow over the paper in a way that mimics how you feel. Even choosing your writing tool might be telling—a pencil’s lead that can be erased as though it never was, a ballpoint that moves smoothly, a colorful marker, a thick, permanent Sharpie. You can grab what’s nearby or you can be more deliberate when selecting.

You have the option of sharing what you’ve journaled with others or keeping it private. You decide. You make the rules.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, therapist in Denville, New Jersey

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
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  • Mara

    Mara

    January 11th, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    I have always been kind of hesitant to write down my thoughts. I guess that I thought that someone would think that they were wrong or whatever, and I just never understood until recently that this is not about a right or wrong, this is about getting those feelings out on paper and really using that as a therapeutic experience for me, no one else.

  • Rod

    Rod

    January 12th, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    Writing has been the best thing for me when I am down and low and really can’t figure out why or what is going on. I think that when I write it it gives me a little better clarity, more vision to truly see what is going on and allows me to read between the lines so to speak.

  • nadine s

    nadine s

    January 12th, 2016 at 2:45 PM

    helped me a lot through my second divorce
    i felt like such a failure but i never wanted to say it out loud because i was afraid that there really were other people who were thinking the same thing that i was

  • Starla

    Starla

    January 13th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    I think that art and music could also be helpful

  • Laurie Leinwand

    Laurie Leinwand

    January 13th, 2016 at 11:58 AM

    Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts and experiences regarding journaling. And, yes, art and music can be other tools for processing our thoughts and emotions.

  • leo

    leo

    January 14th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    I have always been kind of intimidated by the whole process. I think that it started in school because I have always had a hared time with spelling and that translated to not wanting to write. Auto correct has become a friend so I am a little more apt to do any writing now than I ever would have been years ago. I like it, but I do have to remind myself about there being no right and wrong, this is not for a grade or anything like that.

  • Tom

    Tom

    January 15th, 2016 at 4:27 AM

    Hi.

    I have found this helpful but it has now turned into obsessive ritual, I feel if I haven’t wrote anything down then I feel very anxious, as if I need to write something down or else I will forget it, it has turned into an obsessive behaviour. Can anyone give me any advise please?

  • Laurie Leinwand

    Laurie Leinwand

    January 15th, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    @Tom, see if you can experiment with changing your patterns around journaling. For it to be helpful, it doesn’t have to be done on a regular basis. If you’re really struggling and it feels like it’s now controlling you, it might be time to reach out to a therapist to discuss bringing it back to a place where it feels healthy and helpful once again.

  • Thomas

    Thomas

    January 16th, 2016 at 4:05 AM

    Thank you x

  • Teddy

    Teddy

    January 16th, 2016 at 5:13 AM

    Nothing right or wrong, and if you don’t share your writing then it doesn’t matter

  • N Williams

    N Williams

    January 17th, 2016 at 3:23 AM

    I think that journaling is one of many venues to get a lot of stressful thoughts and feelings out. Many people enjoy simply talking to a loved one, art, sculpting, even dancing and singing. I think even reading a book or watching a movie about someone in a similar predicament may give you the encouragement needed to seek therapy.

  • Jish

    Jish

    December 4th, 2016 at 4:15 AM

    Thank you for the post, I have found the process of writing down and journalling calming. And very true that there is no right way of journalling. In case carrying a journal is difficult or if I feel lazy, I have jotted down points in a post its or note cards to give a form to the thoughts. very nice tips on venting out the negative thoughts.

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