The road to emotional healing can be a long and arduous one, especially if you don’t have the right tools to guide you along the way.
Whether you’re looking to reduce stress, manage your emotions, or find a healthy outlet to vent about life’s problems, writing in a journal can help. Journaling is the number one healing technique recommended by therapists and mental health experts.
The difference in patients’ mental states before and after journaling show there are a wide variety of amazing benefits. We’ve spoken to 22 mental health specialists to learn more — here are the biggest changes they noticed when their patients started journaling.
A renewed sense of freedom
"My clients who journal on a regular basis tend to have a renewed sense of freedom and self-confidence. When we're stuck in negative thought patterns it causes us to feel helpless, anxious, and depressed. Journaling empowers us to break this toxic loop by identifying the negative thoughts and behaviors which trigger us so that we can counter with positive self-talk and healthy coping tools." – Dr. Mary Gay, PsyD, LPC, CPCS
An increase in mindfulness
“Journaling helps mental health in many ways, one big change I see is mindfulness. Mindfulness is important because it increases self-awareness both emotionally and physically. Patients who journal begin to notice their emotional and physical reactions earlier compared to those who do not keep a journal. This facilities self-control during emotional moments with one example being anger outbursts, which are less frequent if an individual can notice the signs earlier on.” - James Marrugo, MA, NCC, LPCC
An ability see how far they’ve come
“The most significant change that I see for clients when they start keeping a journal is that they have a written pathway of their progress so when they get overwhelmed and think they're back to square one, they have a tangible history of how far they have actually come.” - Virginia Williamson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
Self-reflection and self-care
“The biggest change I've seen has been their ability to reflect and notice patterns in their mood or behavior. Taking the time to journal allows them time to slow down, gain clarity, and get a broader perspective on their life. It's also a wonderful time for self-care because they're giving themselves the space to open up and practice self-compassion. They're able to be more gentle with themselves because their journal feels like a helpful, safe space.” - Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFT
An ability to take back control of their thoughts
“Journaling has helped my clients to not blindly run with their thoughts. When you journal, you’re able to reflect back on your thinking and go, “Is this really what I’m thinking? Is this even true?” Most of what we think/worry about doesn’t ever come true, so being able to take a step back from our thoughts and see this is an important tool in reducing anxiety.” - JF Benoist, founder and program manager of The Exclusive Hawaii, a holistic addiction treatment center, and author of Addicted to the Monkey Mind.
Getting back in touch with their feelings
“The biggest change I saw in my clients when using a journal is that they are more in touch with their feelings as if they strongly developed an important self-reflection skill that gives them this clarity.” – Valentina Dragomir, psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus.
“Journaling has been a game changer for some of my clients. Journaling can unburden people from worries and thoughts, especially if done first thing in the morning. It allows the creative part of your brain to be more accessible and people who have done morning journaling have found that it helps them feel lighter for the rest of the day.” - Drew Rabidoux, LCSW
Improved interpersonal relationships
“Clients who journal report a greater sense of self-awareness about their emotions and as such it leads them to experiencing greater emotion regulation skills when communicating their thoughts and feelings to others. This in turn enhances interpersonal relationships, because the client who has engaged in journaling their experiences is more likely to be able to effectively convey their needs in the relationship leading to greater satisfaction over time.” - Nicole Miller, MS, LPC, NCC
Improved decision-making and communication skills
“Journaling in all its many forms, provides an opportunity to express oneself; to be curious about emotions and thoughts; and, not only provides a safe space to increase one's insight and self-awareness, but also literally provides space between an event (stimulus) and one's decision to consider the best ways to respond. A journal can also be used as a communication tool for identifying and then sharing thoughts and emotions with a loved one in ways they hadn't done before because a journal can enable us to see our thoughts and emotions in a different way. Simply by taking advantage of the opportunity to write down a thought or feeling or even to draw a picture of how one is feeling, allows an instant opportunity to find a way to express and explain what may be going on internally with them to love ones. Ideally, the expression of thoughts and/or feelings can be met with nonjudgmental empathy.” - Michelle Pargman Ed.S., NCC, LMHC.
A boost in creativity and productivity
“Recently when I got the chance to ask one of the patients if keeping a journal has made her life any better, she was of the view that it has increased her creativity level to so many folds. I remember when she came to me, she was barely getting anything done. Her anxiety issues made her so dull that she stopped doing anything productive. When I advised her to keep a journal and guided her on how she can make the best out of her journal, her anxiety issues reduced to a certain extent. Now, she jots down minor and major goals in her journal and then tries to achieve them. Sometimes she is successful at it while sometimes she is not. But overall, her productivity has increased greatly, which makes her happy.” - Amber O'Brien, mental health expert working at Mango Clinic.
Allows them to step into their observant mind
"Journaling allows us to take a break from reacting to life by stepping into our observant mind. Sometimes the benefit is what we discover about ourselves through observing our thoughts and feelings, but sometimes the benefit is the break itself." - Gabby Rascati, LCSW, Therapist and Owner of Third Eye Counseling.
“If you’re struggling with racing thoughts at night or suddenly find yourself going over unfinished tasks or to-do lists, journaling can provide a way to put those thoughts to paper- giving our mind peace of mind knowing those thoughts are there for us to come back to when we need to.” - Leslie Bashioum, MS, LPC
A greater sense of awareness
“The biggest change I've seen in patients who have begun journaling is a greater sense of awareness. With our fast paced, distracted, grind and ‘doing’ focused lifestyle, we often go into auto pilot and detachment. We wonder why we keep repeating the old same patterns, self-sabotage ourselves, or feel stuck, and frustrated. The first step to change is elevating our sense of awareness. Awareness creates time and space for introspection. From the place and introspection and awareness we can create acceptance as well as action steps toward change. In short, journaling creates greater awareness for us to be able to identify our blocks, limitations, harmful beliefs as well as unhealthy coping patterns. When we see our patterns written out on paper, we are more easily able to create a strategy and plan to move forward. It is important to externalize our patterns, thoughts, and behaviors So that we can wake ourselves out of our habitual ways of being.” – Ilona Váró, MA, LMFT, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
"I often notice that young people with anxiety, worry, or sadness begin to be able to relate to their own emotional experiences as more manageable with journaling. As patients start writing out their thoughts, experiences, and triggers around difficult emotions, they start to independently experience and identify ways that they can calm and regulate those emotions. Journaling can bring a short of mindfulness to the work, and when patients journal regularly between sessions, the work of therapy happens more smoothly and even, at times, more quickly." - Susanne Button, Ph.D., Senior Clinical Director for The Jed Foundation.
Better performance in daily activities
“One of the biggest changes that I have seen in people because of keeping a journal is improved performance in day-to-day activities. What actually happens is when people make a journal and write everything, they want to achieve in it, the urge to achieve all their goals increases to a huge extent. They try to achieve 100% performance which sometimes they can achieve while sometimes not. All this struggle to be better than before makes them energetic and motivated which I love to see.” – Jennifer Lima, mental health expert working at Mango Clinic.
Improved coping skills
"Journaling is a good for developing coping skills. I’ve seen patients who journal improve their mood and anxiety. These patients are able to let out their emotion and thoughts in their journaling." – Divyansu Patel, MD, psychiatrist
An ability to finally be the protagonists in their own lives
“Journaling is magic. There is something unique about sitting with your own thoughts, and creating time and space to record them. When we write things down we give them extra weight. What a lovely thing to give your own experiences/thoughts/feelings heft! Often, we feel as though we have to confront people in our lives if we have healing to do around something that involves them. That's not always true! As long as we are safe, at the end of the day, we are all responsible for processing our own reactions to the events of our lives. My patients who journal, find that they can more objectively see what they think and feel as they write. One beautiful and common side effect of journaling is the ability to place oneself at the center of the story--many times we have trouble being the protagonist in our own lives. Journaling encourages that ability and then leaks into our daily existence.” - Dr. Kelly Rabenstein Donohoe, Licensed Psychologist
“Journaling guarantees a healthy lifestyle as it allows people to keep a track of their triggers and anything in their surrounding that might affect them. Journal can be consulted if you are feeling stressed as this will help you in understanding the core issues and relating them to your current situation.” - Emily Liam, Psychologist and ADHD Expert.
Less negative thinking
“Clients are able to remove the excessive amount of negative thoughts that often show up uninvited and stay longer than they need to through journaling. Our mind naturally has a way of drifting towards a negative basis. For some, journaling helps to get those thoughts of their head and out in the open where they can create more reasoning and understanding. This helps to bring positivity and empathy into the picture to dismantle negative thoughts. I would also love to share that journaling does not always have to be paper and pen. I have many clients who use audio journals by recording their thoughts/moments using a voice note on their phone. Others use a scrapbook to draw a thought/emotion as they are more expressive using art. Journaling is all about documenting how you feel and gain a better understanding through intentional reflection, and there are so many creative ways to do it.” – Jhanelle Peters, Psychotherapist
Increased internal peace
The biggest change I've seen in an individual after they initiated a journaling practice is increased internal peace. There is something very cathartic and healing about having a safe space to dump content and allow for thoughts to flow freely and without judgment with permission for what's been expressed to no longer be held or kept in the mind. How freeing! - Dr. Dana C. Avey, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Fulfillment Counseling & Life Coaching PLLC
When the patients deeply engage with putting their emotions on paper, a lot of transformations start to happen. The first one is that their feelings, out of their own head don´t feel as huge as before, they can start to be able to name the (complexity of) emotions, and so they don't feel so scary anymore. Also, instead of being haunted by those words and emotions they are putting on paper (for example victimizing themselves, or feeling ashamed) the patients start to be able to understand where the feelings and thoughts are coming from, developing empathy towards that part of themselves that feels/thinks that way, empowering themselves to work with the emotions instead of against them, embracing them by understanding their protective intentions, rather than pushing them away (which would have made the emotions escalate, becoming overwhelming and impossible to manage). With all those transformations on the way, the patients start to understand their emotions as a way of the body and mind to express themselves, like a statement, giving them a voice; the patients are then able to allow themselves to listen to that voice, and work on its translation, becoming more able to validate themselves along with their emotional reality, being proud of their accomplishments, and allowing to empower themselves to transform their mental states, as they become their own observers.” – Alexandra Duque, clinical psychologist
An ability to better process grief
“I have witnessed the power of journaling help clients process with grief, whether this is a death of a loved one, miscarriages, or even breakups. There is power in releasing one's emotions wholeheartedly and honestly on paper.” - Dr. Tricia Wolanin Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist
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