A counselling tool that transforms the human mind for change
What Is Journaling?
As a counsellor, I love to use journaling as one of the tools in my session with clients. Although similar to diary writing, journaling goes deeper. In my counselling sessions, journaling has helped my clients change their lives through self-exploration and greater self-awareness. A journal can be written in different ways, according to the client’s writing style or preferences.
In counselling, I always encourage my clients to write as deep and as true to their inner voice as they can. During counselling session with me, I guide them to re-read their piece objectively as a third person to look out for cognitive distortions negative thinking and thinking traps and teach them how to correct these dysfunctionalities. It is a skill they can use to help themselves in the future, even after they have made progress and stopped the therapy.
Journal writing allows me to see with clarity, how my clients think and act, as well as tackle their dysfunctionalities directly in a counselling session. The more committed the client is, the better and faster he will become to achieve his purpose in life.
Benefits of Journaling as a counselling tool
It saves costs
Some are deterred in seeking counselling because of financial constraints. With the use of journaling, counselling time can be reduced substantially. as the counselor would have understood your thought pattern in such as the way you think, your coping skills, and the handling of past issues which may not surface during a face-to-face counselling session due to limited time.
It is a flexible tool
Journaling allows you to explore past issues and cope with them at your own time, in your own comfort space. You can also use journaling as a daily tracker on your daily activities, thought patterns and behaviour. It is especially useful in working through depressive feeling.
It is a mild tool for self-exploration
If you have distressing memories or loss of memory, journaling provides adequate time and space for you to explore your thoughts, manage your emotions, see the connecting dots, and identify the root cause of the issues.
It gives clarity to issues and inner thoughts
For many people, journaling brings more clarity and greater self-awareness. Consider biology at work: The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. Writing removes mental
blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you. This makes it easier for you to work on an action plan.
It’s therapeutic, creative and reflective.
Some of my clients prefer to handwrite their journal, write a word of encouragement to themselves as well as draw or doodle. This is similar to talking therapy. For clients who love to continuously reflect and write, I usually encourage them to journal their own reflections after our session so they can mull through on what they have gained.
Most importantly, writing is therapeutic. journaling allows my clients to release their pent-up emotions, as it is less daunting to writing, compared to talking to others about it. It also helps my clients to recognize and validate some of the emotions they are feeling e.g. anger towards their parent/s for conditional love. When they write and reflect on these emotions they are able to process the negative thoughts and emotions better by seeing things from the perspective of their parents.
It helps you to work on a more effective action plan
Journaling helps you to focus on issues you want to work at. For example, self-esteem, confidence and anger. It also focus on exploring the root cause of the issue or day to day coping or recording event related to the issue. With all these learnings, and guidance by the counsellor, you will be able to process and work at the issue with more structure under an action plan.
It records your healing journey.
Journaling is part of the healing journey which comprises managing emotions, accepting and moving beyond past events; learning new skills, coping with resources and moving forward in life. When emotionally distressed, you can look for areas of self-affirmation, milestones, or gratitude to remind yourselves what you have achieved.
It had proven health benefits
Research has shown that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis and other health conditions.; improves cognitive functioning; strengthens the immune system and counteracts many negative effects of stress (Scott, Elizabeth)
Tips on Building Content
- Consider the following ideas to write about, depending on the client’s issues:
- Explore past issue/childhood/trauma;
- Daily happenings – – How they cope, think or handle a particular situation;
- Gratitude diary;
- Time management (for those with time management issues);
- Daily tracker (for anger outburst, panic attack etc.);
- Action plan, bucket list, etc.
- Bullet journal i.e. pointers on daily happening or issues they want to talk in session. This format can be used by clients who are less expressive in their writings.
Points to note when using journaling as a therapeutic tool.
There are two parts to journaling. The first part is to let your raw emotions run freely. The second part is to take a neutral and objective stand as a 3rd person to study a problem, and write down what you see.
For some, journaling can be an overwhelming experience especially when there is a lack of coping strategies, resources and mental stability to support the process.
Thus, preparing yourselves by reflecting what are your expectations and experience of journaling is important. It is best to speak to a therapist about your journaling experience. Your therapist can help you to understand and handle the root cause of overwhelming emotions; and impart coping skills such as breathing exercises, realistic and rational thinking, nurturing a compassionate self. Be open to counselling whenever you are feeling overwhelmed and need additional support or guidance.
Although journaling is a great therapeutic tool, the lack of direction can cause the writer to fall unknowingly into the trap of negative cycle of remunification. To be effective, consider seeking guidance from a counsellor.
Quick Guide to The Process of Journaling
- Writing it freely and uncensored to uncover your inner self
- Continuously ask yourself critical and profound questions
- Vent as much as you want.
- Check your emotions. When journaling gets too overwhelming, manage and process these emotions in a reflective and rational manner.
- Re-read your journal as a third person who is objective and neutral. Detect what are some of the pattern that can be improved on.
- Be solution focused. Ask what you can do about the problem instead of drowning in the problem.
Launching Your Journals – How Often?
No hard and fast rules for frequency. Some of my clients do their journaling a day or two
before they come in to a counselling session. Others have been journaling habitually with their notebook, apps or blog daily, a few days in between or when an issue happens.
There is no right or wrong as this is a suggested action plan. Be in charge for your healing process. The more you journal, the more awareness you can bring into the counselling process. The more depth your counsellor can work with you.
Journaling as a counseling tool encourages self-exploration and self- investigation. It is a process leading to mental and emotional reorganization and a changed perception of problems and solutions. Thus, journaling is a great adjunctive therapeutic tool in counselling. Nevertheless, not everyone is inclined towards journaling and that is totally fine. Other therapeutic activities that promote psychological healing include drawing, painting, clay making, dancing, yoga and many more. Choose a therapeutic tool that you enjoy the most. The key is to let your uniqueness shine through these avenues of self-expression. If journaling is your preferred therapeutic tool, I encourage you to keep an open mind in writing and allow your emotions to flow with your writing. Together with counselling support, you can break away from supportive beliefs and embrace a brand-new way of coping with issues in life.
Ann is a registered & licensed counsellor with Malaysia Board of Counsellors and had her Master in Psychology Counselling from UniversitiKebangsaan Malaysia (2014). Her clientele includes individual, couples, family and teens. Her wide scope of clientele has provided her very rewarding counselling experiences in handling different issues that client faced, be it in individual counselling and therapy, couple counselling, group engagement or counselling and support group. Ann is also adept in using EMDR – eye movement desensitization reprocessing