There are a number of reasons why someone slips into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse.
To return to firm ground requires techniques that promote wellness in a positive, life-affirming way.
In rehabilitation centers, journaling or daily logging is an application used by many counselors to help residents understand and process their circumstances. Many people use the practice of journaling to channel thoughts and feelings into a safe, non-judgmental place.
In everyday life, there are a multitude of benefits from embracing a journaling habit in order to stay in touch with emotions, share gratitude, work out moments of anxiety, express goals and aspirations, and recover from trauma.
Why Writing Therapy Works
Writing is often one of the top applications considered when discussing the success of art therapy in addiction treatment. The Center for Journal Therapy indicates the process is the “the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness.”
There are many mental health professionals who use journal therapy with their clients so concerns and issues can be written down, discussed, and analyzed. Sometimes, this is the method used in rehabilitation centers and, often, outside of treatment facilities if someone is in private talk therapy. It’s believed journaling allows individuals to be intentional with their writing. As a result, they’re more open toward introspection or reflection about life and circumstances.
Research supports the use of therapeutic journal writing as a way to:
- Allow safe distance to overcome trauma
- Assess environmental and emotional triggers
- Create an easier passage to release difficult thoughts and emotions
- Identify supportive or positive aspects of life
- Provide tangible grounding during anxious or uncertain times
- Calm the immune system with a process of release
With all this in mind, it’s not enough to simply vent thoughts or feelings through journaling. The vital next step to developing stronger emotional awareness and a greater understanding of self; the true healing path is to want to comprehend and learn from your written observations.
Even if someone isn’t presently working with a health professional, the act of capturing the “inner experience”—moments, emotions, thought patterns, and other aspects of being—continues to work for many people moving forward in life. It’s full freedom of expression, without judgement.
How to Journal
Do you really a need to have a how-to guide for writing? No…and yes. The general consensus is there are few rules for the process if you’re doing it on your own, without counseling or a set health directive. What you choose to put on the pages and how you do it is totally up to you and within your control.
However, if you haven’t used this application before, consider these guidelines:
- The word “journal” isn’t limited to just writing. Although the term is most often associated with words, you can also explore your thoughts and emotions more visually if you prefer. Coloring, drawing, creating a collage, using watercolors, applying stickers, and other creative expressions may be more helpful to describe a situation, emotional trigger, positive reflection, or an incident.
- Use a notebook, computer, a sketch pad, or a preformed journal. Some people buy a $1.99 college-ruled lined notepad and never look back. Others feel more comfortable sitting at a screen and typing. Some individuals use open, unlined pages to write, sketch, and “live” in their experiences. And still others prefer to have more order with books designed to guide a user with prompts, ideas, lists, and additional techniques to stimulate the process. For example, a prompt such as “Identify the qualities you admire in others” can help someone venture into many areas of emotion and thought.
- No editing! Okay, so there may be one “rule” to this process: stay in the moment, or the stream of consciousness, in order to get to the heart of what you think or how you feel. If journaling evokes feelings of perfection or criticism and you feel compelled to “check yourself” by rewriting, scribbling out, or otherwise correcting previous entries, resist that temptation. You’re not being graded, analyzed, or evaluated in any way. Staying present even as you contemplate the past or consider the future increases your emotional awareness. It’s harder to accomplish that in edit mode.
- A journal can be shared or it remain private. Unless you’re journaling as a way to open up to a health professional during a talk therapy session, you’re under no obligation to reveal the contents of it to anyone unless you want to.
You’ve Completed a Journal: Now What?
Finally, another question often asked about writing therapy is whether or not to keep each journal when it’s complete. This is a matter of personal preference.
Some people encourage continual growth by reviewing previous journals and seeing how far they’ve come and what they’ve accomplished. These individuals often keep their journals for months or years to use as points of reflection.
Others are more inclined to allow whatever they thought or felt in a particular moment to exist only in that space, and have no desire to revisit it. Once a journal is complete, they may be inclined to destroy it in a ritualistic way, such as tearing out sheets and burning them, to acknowledge the passing of old habits and aspects of self that no longer serve them.
Again, just as you chose to express yourself without judgement, you can decide what to do with these observations in the same way.
Any practice that allows you to feel safe, understood, and progressive in life is a good one. Consider adapting some form a journaling to reveal more of your best self.
The Center for Journal Therapy.
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Study.
The Health Benefits of Expressive Writing.
The Therapeutic Writing Institute.