They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and for good reason. Seeing our innermost thoughts and feelings on the page can be a hugely beneficial thing, allowing us to express ourselves in a safe space, and process our experiences. Here, psychotherapist Bhavna explores the powerful practice of journaling, and how you can harness it, too
While it’s not a recent phenomenon, journaling has become a fast-growing staple of those curious to explore their inner lives. As a psychotherapist, one of the most powerful techniques I offer clients is an invitation to journal. Many people can be apprehensive of writing at first – some may have had traumatic experiences connected with writing, for example people with dyslexia, or those from an older generation who were severely punished for being left-handed.
Apprehension is absolutely understandable, however, the incredible power of using the written word to travel into the inner sanctum of your being is worth it. And, if it doesn’t work for you, you have lost nothing. But, if it does work, you have access to one of the most powerful self-help techniques created, for free! Writing as a form of therapy has transformed the lives of many hundreds of my clients, and myself.
A page is like a wise and non-judgemental companion, a witness to your most scared and private thoughts. Let’s look at why the act of writing (with a real pen or pencil, not a keyboard) can produce what feel like miraculous results.
Our memories are stored in our brain and body as chemical signatures. As you write, an incredible chemical reaction takes place in your brain. Those memories, made up of thoughts and feelings, are transformed in real time into words. Words that express, process, and translate what you are feeling and thinking. Sentences that describe, explore, challenge, accept, wonder, and question what is going on in your head. Words connect us to our soul, enabling us to communicate our joy, sadness, disappointments, triumphs, needs, dreams, and desires. Everything is made up of words!
Now, imagine taking control of this powerful organ, the brain, and beginning to understand how it works in your life. Learning its secrets through the written word, and seeing it come alive on the page before you; that is the magic of journaling.
My clients are offered many different forms of writing as part of our work. Writing for a few minutes daily allows us to connect with ourselves. Write whatever is coming to your mind: are you worried, angry, sad, happy, or excited? Write it down. As you do this, you will begin to see patterns emerge in relation to your thinking style. Are you generally positive, glass half full? You can then take the patterns – for example feeling anxious – and write about that, asking yourself questions such as: Why do I feel anxious? Where does it come from? When did it start? Why is it present in my life? Is it your ‘stuff’? If not, whose is it, and what keeps it there?
Remember, if the process gets overwhelming, you can simply put your pen down and get some fresh air. Therapeutic journaling will bring up sadness, along with difficult emotions including anger, grief, and regret. This is absolutely natural, and it enables us to face and process these feelings, which is the whole point of journaling.
The therapeutic benefits of writing have been repeatedly proven in numerous studies, including those by Dr James Pennebaker and his team, who significantly reduced the impact of trauma and PTSD in subjects who had found other interventions unhelpful. But it’s important to remember that if you do experience trauma or PTSD, you should look to find a properly experienced and qualified therapist to support you.
For some, writing may be the only way to express something they cannot disclose to another person. What is important is that it is being released. For example, writing unsent letters can be very powerful in telling someone how you feel about them in no uncertain terms, especially if they are deceased. My clients love this exercise, because it allows them to turn the air blue, have a good rant at a boss, parent, spouse, sibling, or friend, and then destroy it. It is a safe way to express how you feel without getting fired or into trouble.
Journaling also allows us to be creative and play! When was the last time you sent or received a real hand-written letter? How amazing did you feel? Why not get some beautiful stationary and surprise your loved ones, or yourself, with a letter? I have letters from my best friend and pen-pals that date back to 1989, and I love them! Forget texting, try writing a letter.
The act of writing is about taking control of our own life. It allows us to realise what kind of things we allow in our minds, and how we can create good, healthy boundaries for ourselves and others. It also helps us organise our minds, sharpen our senses, and understand how we think! As we write, we become sharper, more present, and more mindful about what is going on around us. We become more aware of who we are, and of our place in the world. Journaling allows you to meet and get to know your true self.
If you need support for your mental health, visit counselling directory to connect with a professional.