“Daily journaling gives a voice to your spirit.”
Positive Psychology and Therapeutic Journaling
The field of Positive Psychology promotes proactive therapeutic approaches supporting adaptive self-care. This is an extensive process accomplished through self-exploration and effective goal setting. Clinicians working from a Positive Psychology lens, attempt to create an atmosphere that promotes self-efficacy and client driven problem solving. Through supportive communication and person-centred skill building, clients emerge with a path of their own creation.
Journaling is a tool commonly used in the therapeutic process. Entries completed outside of appointments, are reviewed in-session for feedback and insight building. As a clinician, journaling assignments are ubiquitous to practice – Not only is it a great place to learn about the client, it also helps form the therapeutic relationship through trust building.
Sounds straight forward, right? Don’t be fooled! Keeping a journal seems easy on the surface. In reality, the process requires focused attention on structure and purpose. In fact, some assert that there is no such thing as a, ‘wrong’ approach to approach therapeutic journaling. We disagree!
Tools and Technique
What do we at Finding My Psych suggest to get you started? We are so glad you asked!
You first must decide on the tools that you will use before launching an effective journaling strategy. There are endless possibilities in the modern age. Second, the technique(s) you utilize in the practice of journaling is critical – In order to achieve optimal therapeutic benefit, you require a menu of honed journaling strategies.
Three Approaches – Then and Now
You have the choice to stick to, ‘old school’ journaling tools (pen and paper), or go all out millennial using a digitally driven approach. The tools you choose are largely determined by personality and convenience. We have identified three methods, each effective in their own right. These are, journaling pen to paper, keyboard to screen, and digital pencil to digital tablet (iPencil with iPad).
1 – Journaling Old School – Pen and Paper
Do you know someone who has kept a hand-written journal their whole life? My dad is one of those guys. And this is an interesting story because he does not seem the type!
My dad is a logger, who at the age of 80, still tops trees for a living. He keeps a calendar style journal, stored in a cubby of the rock wall behind his fireplace (well out of harms way). For as long as I can remember, he has made daily entries about the weather, visitors from the day, and plans for the week. Each entry is about five sentences long, even drawing small cartoon characters in the margins when he sees fit. His dedication is quite remarkable. There is a treasure trove of information we will all enjoy one day when he is gone.
Keeping a journal using an analogue approach, arguably carries the most therapeutic value. You have to formulate your thoughts with no ability to backspace. You put down the most important thoughts, items that you can remember – Ink is never wasted because of the need for heightened intent.
- Pros: Low cost (you can write on anything). The slower process requires you to target your intention on the paper.
- Cons: Can slow you down from getting all your thoughts on paper. It is also not the least bit secure.
2 – Journaling Keyboard and Screen
Since the birth of computing, individuals have used the keyboard as their pen. This attractive method is useful to get thoughts down quickly while keeping a digital record of work. It also allows for searching of words and topics, assuming your journal is one file added to every day.
You can use Microsoft Word as your digital journal. In recent years, cloud based journaling apps have emerged as an innovative alternative, providing the possibility to journal on-the-go. It also means that your entries are accessible between devices. One such application is, Day One Journal, available for free or as a paid subscription for additional storage and features.
- Pros: Accessible across platforms. Very secure with password protection.
- Cons: Can feel like you are completing an assignment for school.
3 – Hybrid Journaling – iPad and iPencil (Video Example Below)
If you love the digital world, but miss the pen to paper experience, then we have a solution for you! But first, you will need a digital tablet with the associated digital pencil. At Finding My Psych, we are in love with our iPad Pro 12-inch, and the Apple Pencil. This combination provides a natural hand writing experience in a digital world. While some find the transition from pen and paper somewhat difficult at first, we believe this hybrid approach offers the best of each world.
There are several applications available to get you started. The most popular are:
It should be noted that Day One has not yet created an Apple Pencil compatible update, something that keeps us shaking our heads at Finding My Psych.
- Pros: Feels similar to old school analogue journaling. Some applications have hand written word recognition for searching.
- Cons: Equipment is expensive. Requires app testing for the best individualized user experience.
Journaling for Mental Health – Five Suggestions
Once you have chosen your preferred tools, it is important to identify the method of journaling that both fits your personality and needs best. A strategic approach helps focus your journal writing experience, with the ultimate intent of providing an optimal therapeutic experience.
For example, if you are struggling with Clinical Depression, journaling assignments with structure keeps the process moving forward. Over time, you will be able to see your progress. Moreover, you will have focused content to share with your therapist, bring deeper meaning to your sessions.
- Free Writing: While we do not directly recommend this approach, it is popular enough that it deserves its own notation. Free writing is putting down your thoughts in journal format with no particular order or planned structure. Some find this cathartic in nature, and therefore helpful. We recognize it as a legitimate first step, especially when measures are taken to mitigate feeling overwhelmed.
- The Bullet Journal: Writing using a bullet list as your primary structure, is the most basic form of organized journaling. You will find that bullet listing your cognitive and emotional experience, forces you to categorize into meaningful chunks of content. For instance, if you think about an activating event that caused you distress, you can sort your thoughts and emotions into separate bullet categories, making it easy to see your experience in writing – Oddly enough, the problem is never as big as we think once we clearly define it in bullets.
- The Gratitude Journal: Another powerful technique is writing down a list of what you are grateful for. This can either be done on its own, or as an addendum to free writing. Keeping a gratitude journal has powerful positive emotional effects, especially if practiced every day.
- Targeting Symptoms: You can also journal specifically about your symptoms. If you have started a new medical intervention for depression, writing about the perceivable changes in symptoms, helps you easily see progress, or the lack there of, over time. It also allows you to put your scientific hat on, viewing your individual symptoms from an outside perspective.
- Past & Present Analysis: One alternative to free writing, is targeting topics into comparative past and present experiences. This powerful model shows you both improvements over time, and areas that need extra attention. For instance, writing a journal entry about your fitness levels today, compared to two years ago, reveals either an opportunity to celebrate, or refocuses your attention on exercise as a mood enhancing intervention.
Try It Yourself!
Keeping a journal has extreme therapeutic value. Challenging yourself to sit down every day, using the tools and techniques that fit your needs best, will have massive transformative impact. The experience is, at very least, validating. If you are going through a particularly difficult time, journaling is a positive step towards improved emotional wellness, provided that you adhere to some form of writing structure.