Journalling as a Therapeutic Tool

Posted: 31/08/2017

In 1990 James Pennebaker from the United States of America conducted some of the earliest and most significant research into the use of journalling as a therapeutic tool. He found that for journalling to have physical and emotional health benefits, people needed to not only journal about an event, but to also journal about the emotional responses that occurred in relation to that event.

The actual PROCESS involved in journalling – that of thinking, feeling, expressing and making real – is so important and so full of impact. Sometimes, WHAT we journal is not as important as the fact that we DID journal, that we went through the process of connecting with ourself and telling our story.

As with any other therapeutic tool, activity or strategy, journalling tools and techniques need to be matched to an individual’s needs, readiness and preferences. Some people take to journalling (in whatever form) very comfortably, whereas for others it is not something that comes easily. It is useful to experiment with different techniques and find those that appeal most to you and that encourage you to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

Journalling can be used in many contexts – individually, within the client/therapist working relationship, in groups and classes. If you are using a journal with a counsellor, a teacher or any other professional, be clear about how much, if any, of your journalling you will share with that worker. Likewise, as the worker, decide with the client how the journal will be incorporated into your work together.

  • How much structure will you provide?
  • Will the client show you journal entries each time you meet?
  • Alternatively, will the client simply give you an overview of the themes that have arisen?
  • Will you want to read the journal for yourself?
  • How will you seek permission for this in respectful ways?

Bear in mind that when we know that someone else is going to read our journal entries, they are likely to be different to how we would journal when we know no one else will see what we have created. One of the benefits of journalling is that it can be a private activity that encourages us to journal about issues we might not talk about. Maintaining privacy is crucial.

Journalling in groups can be a wonderful experience. Sharing what we journal with other people and hearing the responses, thoughts and feelings of others, can be an affirming, enlightening and empowering experience. Groups provide opportunities for us to share ideas and experiences, to realise that others feel the same way we do or are experiencing the same or similar thoughts, questions, discoveries and memories.

So, who might choose to use Inside Out? Everyone! These include therapists, social workers, psychologists, other health and welfare workers, teachers, trainers, careers guidance counsellors, parenting program facilitators, relationship counsellors, organisations and businesses, families, communities and individuals.


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