Journaling as a Therapeutic Intervention

Journaling is an excellent activity for your participants to grow greater self-awareness and encourage creative expression. It is a deeply personal activity that has no set rules or techniques. By teaching journaling, you are giving your participants an outlet they never considered. Journaling may also reach your more introverted clients and those avoiding social activities. You could cater the activity to your client’s specific goals by suggesting writing prompts. Of course, your participants will need basic writing skills and the ability to put words or pictures to papers.

If your working environment offers an opportunity to create a journaling group this article is a great primer to find ways writing can benefit your clients. Some notebooks, pens, and a comfortable, non-judgemental environment is all you need for your clients to start writing for their benefit.

 Journaling title picture

Need areas addressed when journaling:

Creative Expression

Journaling gives a safe, personal outlet to express anything the participant cares to address. Creative prompts allow the participants to explore new perspectives and ideas.

New Leisure Skills

If a participant has an interest in writing or never even considered writing as a leisure activity, this is an excellent opportunity to explore the therapeutic value of journaling.

Self-Awareness

Journaling brings an opportunity to explore one’s self. By writing about a particular subject, participants could gain insight about how it affects them.

Expressing What is Difficult to Verbalize

Some people find they are better at writing out difficult emotions and situations rather than expressing them verbally. By introducing journaling, you may give your participants an effective outlet.

Problem Solving

If a participant is struggling through difficult times, encourage them to journal about the issue then brainstorm solutions.

Increasing Gratitude

Gratitude is so important in cultivating general well-being. By encouraging participants to journal about the good things happening to them daily, it creates a shift in their mindset. Instead of focusing on the negative, they actively search for positive moments to write. 

Dealing with Negative Emotions

During difficult times, it is easy to keep replaying negative thoughts in one’s head. By writing them down, it is a cathartic and symbolic way to let those thoughts escape the mind and find a resting place on paper.

Setting Goals

By journaling about personal goals participants wants to accomplish, it creates tangible milestones to accomplish. By meeting these goals, the participant will boost motivation and self-confidence.  

An Opportunity to View Progress

If a participant has been journaling for a while, they could look at their earlier entries and see where they were mentally, physically, and emotionally at any given time. This reflection allows them to see the progress they made to improve their lives.

Need More?

Here is a great website that lists 100 benefits of journaling.

 

If you are considering starting a journaling group or offering journaling as a leisure education option, here are some good points to teach:

 

It is private.

Depending on your work environment, participants may be leary or paranoid to write their thoughts. Assure them the journal is only for them to help with their struggles, triumphs, and thoughts. Find ways to ensure the journal is secure and out of the reach of others.

There is no right or wrong way to journal.

Though you may offer suggestions and writing prompts, it does not mean the participants have to follow them. If they want to draw, doodle, write poetry, write a letter to themselves, or make bullet points of life goals, that is their decision. Encourage them to follow their thoughts and write without judgement.

Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.

As mentioned above, journaling is private. Don’t get stuck finding the best word or sentence structure. Journal whatever comes to mind without unleashing the inner editor.

Start each page with no expectations.

A blank page means endless opportunities. If the start of an entry talks about the weather, and ends with the memory of a really bad prom date, then great. Encourage them to let their right brain go wild as their left brain focuses on filling the page.

Make a routine.

Good habits start from routines. Ask your participants to commit to journaling daily if possible. Know their strengths and what you feel is possible for them.

Don’t get overwhelmed.

Don’t make it a daunting task–let them start at five minutes or half a page. If they write more, great. If they only write one sentence or doodle a couple pictures in that time, then they are making the effort. 

Try not to fixate on the negative.

Sure, journaling about negative thoughts, feelings, and situations can be helpful. But someone writing three pages of negativity may not benefit from the activity. If a participant chooses to write about a negative issue in his or her life, encourage them to write some solutions or lessons learned from the experience to shift perspective.

In group settings, create a comfortable location with lots of space between the participants. Anything you could do to assure the participants’ work is completely private will encourage more honest, personal writing. Play some relaxing music and find ways to minimize distractions.

 

Writing Prompts

picture of someone journaling

Though the participants could write or draw about whatever they want, some may look at the blank page and become paralyzed with what to do next. Writing prompts will help them get started. A writing prompt could be about anything. Know your participants and what is appropriate and engaging to them.

 

Twenty ideas for journaling prompts

Write a letter to your future self about your current situation.

Who inspires you? How do they make you want to be better?

Make a list of goals you hope to accomplish in the near future.

Write three great things that happened to you today.

What goals have you accomplished recently?

Just write whatever comes to mind.

Write about a childhood memory.

What are some of your favorite songs and why do you like them?

What is the greatest piece of advice you ever got?

Write song lyrics about a special day in your life.

Write about when someone made you feel special.

Talk about a problem you overcame. How did you do it?

Conduct an interview with yourself.

You have a plane ticket to anywhere. Where would you go and what would you do?

Write about your three best traits.

What makes you laugh?

If you could have lunch with anyone right now, who would it be? What would you talk about?

Make doodles of the things you like doing the most.

What advice do you have for the world?

What stresses you out? What are some great ways to deal with stress?

These are ideas from the top of my head. You could certainly create your own prompts or resources on the internet.

End the session and allow the the participants some time to quietly return to the present moment. Let your debriefing be more about the process and not about the content they wrote. 

For example:

Compare how you felt before and after your journaling session.

Did you struggle to write or did it flow?

Is there anything that surprised you about this session?

 

Depending on your population, some issues a participant may try committing to writing could bring up difficult memories and emotions. As Recreation Therapists, we may not be equipped to help participants deal with serious mental health issues alone.  Abuse, trauma, and grief are complex, powerful emotions that journaling alone will not suffice. Make sure there is proper support from your interdisciplinary team if journaling triggers these difficult emotions.


 

Make Journaling a Self-Care Activity

Journaling could benefit you as much as your clients. Had a difficult day? Write it out and get it out of your head. Struggling to find new ideas, let your creativity flow with a brainstorming session. Struggling with difficult participants or coworkers? Write something from their perspective to help empathize with them. 

As mentioned earlier, starting a small habit could lead to a great routine. Give yourself five minutes to write whatever you want. After those five minutes, if you feel like writing more, great! If not, no big deal, you gave the effort.

If you are interested in learning about more about journaling and completing those CEUs, check out this resource.

 

Tell the Real Recreation Therapist

Do you do any journaling with your clients?

What prompts do you like best?

Has journaling helped you personally?

 

 

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