Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Therapeutic journal writing

We all experience negative emotions and we all react emotionally to situations or the people around us.

Often we can make sense of how we are feeling or even just let the feeling pass as we move on to the next thing, but sometimes negative emotions persist and we can't make sense of them, they continue to affect our thoughts and our behaviour. These negative emotions drag us down making us feel anxious or depressed, they affect sleep, energy levels, appetite and they affect our interactions with others.

There may be a clear trigger to the way you are feeling for example following a bereavement, loss or  disappointment of some kind. Maybe you are affected by something that is going on for someone close to you or you are feeling powerless in some way. However, often our emotions can feel more general than this and they may be triggered by small events or random thoughts and lead to spiralling thoughts that are negative and destructive.

Talking to someone close to you can sometimes help, another person will perhaps provide support or advice, you might find that just by sharing your feelings you begin to feel lighter, more positive and the negative emotions become less intense.

Sometimes we might feel that the person we tried to share our feelings with didn't really understand or didn't have the time to listen and it hasn't helped. Sometimes the people close to us are also struggling with their own negative emotions and so are not able to hear what we say.

You could chose to see a psychologist, counsellor or therapist, who would listen and help you understand the way you are feeling, thinking and reacting, making sense of negative emotions is an important first step in beginning to make changes.

You may feel that your problem isn't 'big enough' to require you to see a therapist but still it is affecting you on a day to day basis, this is where therapeutic journal writing can be a very effective and accessible tool.

People have always written journals and diaries. In today's world with the internet, blogs are a way of expressing thoughts and feelings and sharing these with a wide, listening audience, helping people to connect and identify with those emotions. I see therapeutic journal writing as slightly different to this, initially it is a very private process but one that may then be shared with chosen, important others. A therapeutic journal allows for the expression of all the entangled thoughts and emotions and then through a process of reflection comes a clearer understanding and new perspectives leading to a more balanced emotional state.

Where to start?

  • Chose a notebook or computer format for your personal journal.
  • Find some time to be alone and uninterrupted, give yourself an hour or so, at least initially.
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes to feel yourself stepping away from other day to day activities and bring your complete attention to yourself. Take some deep breaths and focus your attention on what is going on inside your body.
  • When you feel ready just start writing, don't plan what to write, don't worry if the sentences aren't constructed well ...... just write whatever comes to your mind. You may be surprised by something unexpected that comes up, don't worry about it just keep writing.
  • This process in itself can be quite cathartic and you may already feel differently at the end of this writing time. 
  • When you feel you have finished writing take a few minutes of quiet time, taking deep breaths, focus your attention on what is going on inside your body.
  • Then just read through what you have written and at the end of it write what your thoughts are having read it, this reflection really helps in understanding the thoughts and emotions and at this stage you may also have come up with a change to make or just feel different with a different perspective.
  • Plan another writing session quite soon after the first and this time before you start writing, re-read the previous section and again reflect on what this makes you think or feel having read this again, what has changed since you wrote it, do you understand why you felt this way and do you feel differently now?
  • Then begin again just allowing yourself to write freely.
  • It is this process of free writing and reflection that makes journal writing a little bit more than just cathartic.
What next?

  • You may find that this process has allowed you to return to a more balanced emotional state and you can continue to write as often as you like, even when there are no particular big issues to deal with.
  • You might find it helpful to either share your journal or your reflections with someone close to you, especially if your previous difficulties were affecting the other person or your relationship.
  • You could also share with a Psychologist as part of a wider therapeutic process.
If you are interested in using this approach but would like further support through the process then please do not hesitate to contact me, support available through Skype and email.


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