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The power of the written word

I am a big fan of the therapeutic journelling. This may be because I have seen how much it helps me, both personally and professionally, but also because there is plenty of evidence to support that it works for many conditions, including: anxiety, depression, grief and loss, sexual identity, PTSD, obsessive behaviour, chronic illnesses, and interpersonal relationships.

Oscar Wilde is famous for many reasons, but he’s also responsible for the quote often used:

‘I never travel without my diary, one should always have something sensational to read’.

I firmly believe that we all live sensational lives, and the best way to reveal that to ourselves and potentially others, is to journal. A journal is a conversation that we have with ourselves, so we can build a healthy relationship, that turns into a life-long friendship.

Working with a pen on paper is easily accessible, low cost and a versatile form of self-expression and therapy. You can do it alone, with a group, guided by a mental health professional. You can write lists, poems, prose, scribble, doodle, compose song or letters, collage, draw, and scrawl. However, if a pen and paper doesn’t suit you, you can also do this with an electronic medium, such as OneNote, a blog or notes on your smart device.

It can be freeform or more directed. Freeform is where the journeller writes down whatever pops in their head, this could be a question, a thought or other form of expression. However it could also be drawing, painting scribbling or painting. Directed could a response to something posed by the self, or an outside source, such as a loved one or mental health professional.

Therapeutic writing has been proven in many studies to assist with desired outcomes (Baikie & Wilhelm 2005, Murray 2002 and Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, & Kaell 1999). Those who have experienced traumatic experiences who write for up to 15 minutes per day have felt the benefits for months afterwards (Hussain 2010). The comforting side of things can be found in in difficult circumstances when processed on the page, and you can find insights into the self that may be hard to find with thoughts alone. Most therapeutic writing is done in blocks of between five and 15 minutes daily.

All these benefits, but sometimes it’s tough to get started. Here’s a month’s worth of starting points that may help:

1. Write yourself a letter — a younger self, an older self, an alternate self

2. Compose a poem or song about an event or thing you remember

3. Write a story about your day

4. Draw something from your day

5. Write your stream of consciousness

6. Soundtrack of the day

7. Five successes of the day

8. Your nature experience of the day

9. Write a letter to someone else

10. Write the words you need to hear

11. Write down your dream day

12. The one piece of advice you’d give your teen self

13. 10 things that make you smile

14. Describe yourself in 10 words

15. Your first love (person, thing, place, activity)

16. From my day I have learned

17. Unconditional love looks like…

18. I feel energetic when…

19. 15 things that inspire me (paintings, books, places, people, poems, animals, occupations, etc)

20. If I could build my perfect house, it would have…

21. A list of questions you’d like answered now

22. Five new things I’d like to experience/learn

23. The kindest things I can do for myself

24. Things you love about life

25. Thing you wish other knew about you

26. Three moments in life that you will never forget

27. A list of your favourite things

28. I feel content in my own body when…

29. A list of things I’d like to say ‘no’ too.

30. A list of things I’d like to say ‘yes’ too.

31. List of things (people, animals, moments, etc) you are thankful for

This is just a short list to get to you started.

Remember, you don’t have to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation or your handwriting. This is about dumping your thoughts, feelings, and experiences onto the page, uncensored. Once you’re done with an entry, you can ‘analyse’ it by looking at the theme, reading it back, or sharing it. Or you can never look at it again. This part of the process and freedom is what helps you go a little deeper than you would with standard journal entries.

This process may bring up things that you’d like to discuss and process deeper. Consider discussing this with a mental health professional. Your personal safety is always paramount. If it contains details of significant events or trauma add dates to the best of your knowledge. Again, please ensure personal safety at all times in any therapeutic processes.

References: Baikie, K.A., and Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 11, pp.338–346. Retrieved 23/8/2018:

Murray, B. (2002). Writing to heal. Retrieved 23/8/2018

Hussain, D. (2010). Healing through Writing: Insights from Research. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion Vol 12 Issue 2 pp.19–23 Retrieved 22/8/2018

Smyth, J.M., Stone, A.A., Hurewitz, A., and Kaell, A. (199). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis: A randomised trial. Journal of the American Medical Assoc. 281. pp. 1304–1309. Retrieved 23/8/2018

This post was originally written for my Medium blog in August 2018. It has been reproduced and updated for here. Images of original pages from my journals.

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