Essentially, journaling is viewed by psychologists as a mentally healthy practice and is encouraged as a technique for self-improvement. Since I’ve already written posts about my own observations with journaling, i.e., optimizing self-improvement and minimizing obsessive thought patterning, I thought I’d use this post for the perspective of some outside research.
In his article “Journaling with Clients,” Mark Stone, who utilizes journaling in his therapy practice, describes the basic impulse to journal, which he observed in the majority of his clients, as “the desire to record their experience” — but the contrast of those experiences and the reasons for wanting to record them varied significantly. Yet if that impulse is not present, it’s difficult to inspire; required journaling does not tend to yield results.
In recent years, journaling themes have been rapidly integrating into the mainstream, including gratitude journals, health & exercise journals, parenting journals, favorite quotes journals, and dream journals. I’m a serious journaler — I often have a least two themed journals in addition to a day-to-day journal. I also really enjoy reading the various journal prompts that appear in my clients’ books.
Some people journal for record keeping of current events. They are not especially interested in exploring their feelings or analyzing their childhoods, they are responding to political and social local/global events. This type of journaling tends to appeal to those with archival and historical interests in mind. Others journal as a sort of substitute for or supplement to conversation — instead of or in addition to talking through their confusions and dilemmas with friends, co-workers, or family members — they write through their thinking.
Benefits and Challenges
Stone also emphasizes that while the content of journaling is important in the short term, it’s really the process that becomes most relevant eventually (this observation would be pertinent to conversations of therapeutic journaling rather than journaling as a historical/archival or literary interest). See the posts I mention above for my observations on benefits and challenges.
Approaches to Writing
Sometimes there are issues that compel us to start keeping a record of events, if only a hunch that we’ll want to refer back to them for some reason or other. This approach to identifying an objective with your journal can support the effectiveness of your writing process. But I also really appreciate the whimsical side of journaling — just jotting down the impressions of daily life. This can provide the inspiration for more methodical and developed writing pieces later, or they can remind us of times-gone-by.
Journaling can be an invaluable tool to help sort through mental and emotional challenges but it may also behoove us to ask ourselves occasionally whether we are becoming lost in the fray of speculative thinking, making assumptions, and avoiding taking action or moving forward through a journaling approach that amplifies self-absorption and leads to a false sense of reality or self-imposed mental isolation. If so, we may need to seek assistance or redirect ourselves to varied approaches.
Stone, Mark. “Journaling with Clients.” Individual Psychology, 54:4, 1998, 535.