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Journaling for Self-Therapy

By Christine Hennebury

Have you ever considered using your journal for more than just recording your to-do list or daily events? With a commitment to write honestly, journaling can be a unique method of self-therapy, a means of exploring your feelings and motivations — and an excellent tool in your decision-making process.

Buy the book (and the pen)
While many people use weblogs (“blogs”) or computer programs to record their thoughts, putting pen to paper can be therapeutic in itself, and using a notebook and pen lets you write anywhere that you feel inspired.

Be sure to select a notebook that you feel comfortable writing in. Some people enjoy the prestige of recording their thoughts in a leather-bound book, while others who might be intimidated by expensive notebooks write more freely in an ordinary notebook. You may wish to avoid using loose-leaf paper, however, because the urge to crumple your pages and start over may be too great. Perfectionism may hamper your self-discovery.

It is also important to pick the right pen. Make sure that the one you choose is comfortable in your hand and that the ink flows smoothly onto your chosen paper. You may find it useful to use specific ink colors for different purposes (writing about anger in bright red ink can be very appealing).

Once you have your materials in order, it's time to get started.

Put pen to paper (and keep it there)
Once you have decided on the type of journaling you wish to do (see below), pick a good time and place and begin writing, committing yourself to going with the flow (of ink, that is!). Don't stop to censor your thoughts, just keep writing — no matter what ends up on the page. If you constrain yourself to "acceptable" topics and feelings, your self-discovery will be minimal.

If you are nervous about what you might uncover or you are simply afraid that once you start writing you'll be unable to stop, choose a time limit or curb the number of pages you will cover in a single session.

There are many approaches you can take when participating in therapeutic journaling, but three of the most common are writing about the past, writing for decision-making and free writing.

Writing about the past
You may want to begin by picking specific topics such as your saddest or happiest moment, your greatest regret or greatest success or five major turning points in your life. Or you could pick specific life events and write about those.

Once you've finished, give yourself some time to gain some distance from what you have written and then re-examine your journal entry. Some people find that the act of writing itself is very healing. Others find that the re-examination helps them to see events in their past from a new perspective.

Writing for decision-making
When you are faced with a difficult decision, writing about it can help you determine what you really want to do. You may find it useful to write about the pros and cons of the choices available, or you may prefer just to write about the decision you face. Either approach should provide you with more information to use in your decision-making process — but you may find that as a result of writing, you've already made up your mind about the issue.

Free writing
You could also choose to make a daily (or weekly, or monthly) habit of writing in your journal, allowing yourself to write about whatever occurs to you without censoring yourself. The topics you end up writing about, especially those that you return to often, will help you to know more about yourself and the direction you should take in the future.

While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the thoughts and emotions surrounding important life events, keeping a journal can help by providing you with a therapeutic means to keep things in perspective. Making a commitment to journaling is making a commitment to your own mental health.

© Christine Hennebury

Christine Hennebury is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. She writes a therapeutic page in green ink in her green, hardcover journal every day. More of her writing can be found on her web site at


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