Keeping a Diary and Journalling as a Therapeutic Tool

In therapy clients are often encouraged to keep a diary in which to journal their thoughts. I am often asked why and what’s the point? I will try to explain that here and include my own experience. I do tend to use the term diary and journal interchangeably, but in my head I think of the book as the diary and the action of writing as journalling (learn from my experience and don't go down the Google wormhole of keeping a diary v journalling; one l or two!).


This isn’t about keeping a record of tidy thoughts and understandings. It is about having a bin; a place to dump all the shadow thoughts; a space to disentangle the worst of our thoughts that pop in to our heads, sometimes seemingly from no-where. It is also a space for our over reactions to situations or conversations that make no sense. It is often the opposite of our true thoughts but to get to those we sometimes need to take these shadow thoughts out of our brains onto the page to see them for what they are. Leaving them there we can then move on with more congruency in thought, word and deed. This is the therapuetic process of journalling. Hopefully I have conveyed that it isn't the same as the neat and tidy record we may have in mind when we think of keeping a diary.


Getting started can seem daunting as most of us have been taught that writing should be neat and tidy, that diaries and books have to be treated with care. That pressure can be experienced when confronting the first blank page of that carefully chosen notebook or the blank word doc on your screen (I am definitely a paper and pen person). I suggest always start by writing the day and the date. Start to get the feel of journaling by writing about what it is like to open the book and what is being experienced in the moment about the action itself. Even today I think I start most of my new diaries in that way. It feels like breaking the ice with a new acquaintance. To get you on your journaling path try to write something everyday, maybe three things you are grateful for and why, anything that made you happy, angry or upset. Maybe do a doodle if you don’t know what to write and a sentence saying ‘I don’t know what to write’. This is an acknowledgement of what is going on for you in that moment. If you have any fears about committing thoughts to paper maybe explore that in your first entry. You will soon find yourself building a relationship with the diary and find it a space to dump whatever needs dumping.


My diaries do have some lovely things I want to record but mostly it contains illegible rubbish. I have used the same make and style of diary for a decade and rarely ever look back into them, for out of the context of the moment those words won’t make sense, it was in the action of putting the word down where the power of it lay. I have an attachment to my old diaries and keep them. That may not be for you, your diaries - your rules. My diaries, like your own will be, are not memoirs that have been finely crafted to be read, they are private, raw and messy and I absolutely wouldn’t regard them as a representation of who I actually am. Thankfully! Journaling in my black books has been a great gift to myself and I whole-heartedly suggest it to anyone.