Writing a diary or journal or even just the odd note to self is a great way to focus your thoughts and feelings, gain insight into yourself and fast-track your recovery
If you haven’t started therapy or counselling but have a sense that it might help, writing a journal can be a very good way to organise your thoughts and crystallise your ideas about what your therapy goals are. And if you are already in counselling, keeping a journal, however brief, can “supersize” the sessions for you. If you forget about your issues for a week and pick them up when you enter the next session, you can feel that nothing has, or likely will, change, but if you keep a journal in the meantime, it maximises your chance of finding a voice in the session and of achieving some growth between them.
You might feel as though you cannot always remember what you want to say in each session, or what was said, or the 50 minutes might be up before you have expressed everything you wanted to or had a chance to fully reflect on what came up during the session. So writing is a great way to continue the work of your sessions outside the 50-minutes. It helps you to focus and articulate your thoughts and feelings about it, and to continue and optimise the benefits of having the space to think with a trained professional.
Many people are daunted by the idea of writing something every week, let alone every day so the main thing is to make it manageable or you won’t do it. Some people just jot the three words after each session that they feel sums up where they are with everything. Others discipline themselves to produce 50 words each week or spend a full 15 minutes writing whatever comes into their heads freestyle. There are also diary apps and online journaling programs that can help you to get started. Most people buy a smart new Moleskine notebook or leather-bound journal and make an insightful first entry and then panic about being able to maintain the momentum and fill the book, or even another page of it. The trick is to find something that fits your style, to keep it simple, and pace yourself.
It almost doesn’t matter what you write about because what is important is that you take the time to express yourself in words. Introspection takes practice, which requires time and effort. But the benefits are enormous. Not only are you making some effort to look at yourself and your difficulties, which continues the flow of therapy and makes you more aware. You have also begun to organise what can feel like a mad muddle of disjointed material. Writing these thoughts down forces you to pull these disparate thoughts together into one linear stream. This will make you feel more unified and clearer about your goals in therapy and in life. Also, once you get going, the journal acts as a record of your progress, and in a few months you can be looking back amazed at how far you’ve come.
Nervous about starting a therapeutic journal? Here are some tips on how you might write one:
Before a session
- Did you have any dreams in the week before this session that you could take to your counsellor or therapist. You might want to keep your journal by your bedside so you can jot them down in the morning before you forget them
- Are there any physical sensations or emotions you’re noticing in your body or differences in your posture or energy levels this week?
- Did anything you read in a newspaper or watched on TV trigger any trains of thought, ideas or memories and how did that make you feel?
- If you had to name three wishes for this week what would they be?
After a session
- What were the main themes of your last session?
- What did you miss that you’d like to raise in the next one?
- How you feel about therapy and/or the therapist: describe whether you look forward to or dread about the next session and try to make some notes on why you feel that way
- Can you identify and describe precisely and accurately exactly what you are feeling and thinking at this very moment of writing it down?
- Make a list of what is really p***ing you off right now and/or a list of things you have to be thankful for
If the words don’t come find a way without them and allow yourself to scribble, doodle, let the pen flow over the paper to replicate how you feel.
If have already embarked on some therapeutic writing or want the impetus to get you started and would like to talk to someone about it, we have a team of counsellors who will be able to help. Call 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be able to help you find you the right therapist for you.