Journal writing provides a way to put thoughts down on paper where they can be seen and read, and gives shape and substance to feelings. Journaling is an effective and powerful means for self expression, fosters personal growth, and can be a valuable companion on the road to self discovery.
A journal provides a place to express and explore innermost thoughts, feelings, ideas, questions, and concerns, and later return to reminisce or re-examine. It can be a place for people to talk and be honest with themselves in a way that may be difficult under other circumstances. And journals can allow people to get in touch with parts of themselves that are hidden under the surface.
To express means to press or squeeze out; to make known and reveal. Once out of your head, words give meaning and clarity to your feelings and thoughts, and sometimes allow you to be relieved of them. But why is it important to express feelings?
Talking about things that affect us doesn't change a thing in the world around us, and it's not unusual to hear people ask "What's the point of talking about it, when it doesn't change a thing?" It's not that self expression -- talking about it -- changes the world. But, self expression has the power to change you, and the way you see and experience the world.
Putting your feelings into words gives them shape and meaning. It allows you to put your feelings and thoughts into the world around you -- and by doing that, you connect to your environment and the people in your life.
When and How to Use a Journal
If you take journal writing seriously, it will become important to set aside time to write. Writing daily allows the opportunity to become more self reflective, and ensures you take some time each day to process how you feel.
Journal writing is useful before an important meeting or event because it can help you to decide upon issues you'd like to talk about, or simply get clearer on your feelings and thoughts. In any situation where it's important to be self aware and expressive, writing in your journal beforehand will help clarify feelings and thoughts.
Writing in a journal after an important meeting or event is valuable also. It can help keep the experience, feelings, and issues raised alive, and provide you with a way to recognize, process, and express your feelings and thoughts.
Making Yourself Comfortable
You may not be used to keeping a diary or journal, and perhaps feel unsure of how to best start. First, decide which conditions and environment will best support your journal writing. Here are a few suggestions that may help make the process more comfortable and productive for you:
- Set aside a regular schedule for writing, preferably at a time of day when you're fresh and have the most energy.
- Take breaks during your writing if you need to. Stretching your legs can also give your mind a break.
- Think about the kind of environment that will best suit and support your writing. Consider playing some quiet music or other relaxing background sounds. Would you prefer a brightly lit room filled with sunlight, or a room quietly lit by candles?
- Make yourself physically comfortable. For many, writing is enhanced by the comfort of a favourite chair, or the feel of a comfortable piece of clothing.
- Pick a place to read and write that will be emotionally comfortable for you as well. Do you prefer a quiet private location or a public community area?
- Once you've completed an entry, re-read it. Reflecting on what you've written can help you gain new insights.
Journal Writing and Counselling
For those working with a therapist, a journal can serve as an important addition to therapy. It provides an opportunity to later add thoughts and explore issues that come up in or out of therapy in greater detail. And, if you choose to share your journal with a therapist, you have the added opportunity to discuss the contents in a therapy session.
Write for Yourself
Whether you're working with a therapist or starting on the path to discovery on your own, remember that your journal is just that -- your journal. It is written by you, for you. Don't be influenced by the fact that you may later allow someone else to read what you have written.
Write your journal for yourself and not someone else who may later read it. If you do it regularly and honestly, your journal writing can be an integral part of your journey through life.
Adams, K. (1993). "The Way of the Journal." Lutherville, MD: The Sidran Press. Baldwin, C. (1998). "Life's Companion: Journal Writing As a Spiritual Quest." New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub Rich, P., & Copans, S. A.. (1998). "The Healing Journey: Your Journal of Self Discovery." New York: John Wiley. Rich, P., & Copans, S. A.. (1998). "The Healing Journey for Couples: Your Journal of Mutual Discovery." New York: John Wiley.
About the Author:
Phil Rich, Ed.D., MSW, DCSW is the author of "Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders," the eight books in "The Healing Journey" series of self help journaling books, and two books in the "Therapy Homework Planner," series, all of which are published by John Wiley & Sons. He is the Clinical Director of the Stetson School, a long-term residential treatment program for sexually reactive children and juvenile sexual offenders.
Originally published 10/19/99 Revised 11/05/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.