Journaling or Therapy? Try both.

I can't help but tout the benefits of journaling to any of my clients who want to add to the process of therapy. Something I always share that I firmly believe in: it's not only the benefit of catharsis in the moment of writing that makes journaling so effective - It's also reviewing what you've written.

If an abundance of progress has been made, this inspires continued growth and change; the "look how far I've come!" moment. And if issues in certain areas are consistent across entries and it feels that minimal progress has been made, this signals an area where needs are not being met, and provides a more narrow focus of what to work on. It's a win-win!

Some other tips to using a journal as a therapy aid:

Take notes in session, or afterwards. Particularly in NYC with that long train ride home following a therapy session, this is the perfect time to jot down some of your reflections from the session. It's easy to remember a summary of what you're working on in therapy after a few months' time, but harder to recall the specifics - "How did I come up with some of my main goals in the first few months of therapy?" or "How did it feel for me to discuss ____ today?" These "process" reflections are an important part of the work, and having the ability to look back on them often can denote significant progress.

Be sure you feel confident that your journal is private. After a long hiatus from journaling, I realized that I was not writing frequently or writing my most authentic thoughts because, in the back of my mind, I feared that someone might read it someday (My sister and I shared a long and treacherous childhood of reading each others' journals...perhaps something we both need to address in our own therapeutic work!!). One of the most important parts of journaling is being totally honest with yourself - this should be a free space to "say" what you may not feel comfortable saying in other scenarios. So do whatever you must to ensure that your journal stays totally private - keep it under lock and key, at work instead of at home, or for techies, under password protection. If there is any doubt that it's totally private, I can almost guarantee that total openness will not be possible. 

For those who hate to write: If journaling does not inherently feel like "your thing," then don't think of it as journaling! Come up with a simple recording that you will do daily, rather than a full journal entry. One example: Write the highest and lowest points of your day. No need to use full sentences; it could even be in bullet form. Anything to take the pressure off! This is still enough to reflect on. If, looking back over two months of entries, the highest point of the day was typically something like a quick chat on the street with a neighbor or inside joke with a colleague, you may be craving more human interaction and companionship. Another example: Write a small intention for the day first thing in the morning, such as, "I'm going to slow my pace down a bit today." It may not seem profound, but every word is helpful. My most simple "entry" of all time? Drawing a smile or frown in my paper planner at the end of each day to mark my overall mood over the course of a few months. Patterns will arise, even if the "data" is limited!!

Wait to review. If you can, restrain yourself from peeking! I am always amazed to find that I can barely recall entries from a few months prior, and going back and reading them is always a joyous time capsule into where I was at that point in my work, relationships, etc. If you review very frequently, the impact and ability to see patterns in progress (or lack thereof..which is still a helpful pattern!) may be lessened, since progress is typically compounded with time. 

The bottom line: Get outside of whatever your thought of traditional journaling may mean, and have fun with it! If nothing else, it will impress your therapist and make your ride on the 6 train go by a little more quickly at the end of a long, hard day of introspection.