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What is Journal Therapy?

What is JT?

Journal therapy, also known as writing therapy is a form of treatment that focuses on the therapeutic benefits of expressive writing.

It can be used to support and supplement counselling, coaching and used individually as treatment for emotional and physical issues such as; trauma recovery, relationship challenges, grief, addiction, anxiety depression & other illnesses.

It is all too  easy to keep our emotions, thought and feelings bottled up but suppression of particularly traumatic experiences can have significant negative effects for our overall wellbeing.



Expressive writing can be a great support to the expression of these feelings, we all experience difficult times in our lives and sometimes finding our centre again can become a new challenge in itself. Using writing to express our inner world without having to hold back can provide emotional release and help to support finding new solutions.  


Journal therapy vs keeping a diary

JT vs Diary

It may be easy to think that therapeutic journalling is the same as keeping a diary (or regular journal) and while there are some similarities there are some key differences

When keeping a regular diary we tend to just open it and write. Therapeutic Journalling tends to be more structured, implementing a variety of prompts and exercises.

Daily diaries and journals often involve keeping a records of the event that occurred that day, miseducating with how we might have felt about them. Journal Therapy enhances this by calling for reflection and  analysis of what has come up in our writing, often with the support of a licensed health professional

There is a more free-flow approach to keeping a diary, when we write for therapeutic reasons we do with the intention of growth & development. 

The benefits of Journal Therapy

The Benefits of JT

The more research that is carried out, the psychologist and coaches are beginning to see just how much we can benefit and heal from simply allowing  our thoughts to flow onto paper...


Some of these include: ​

Reduce Stress, Anxiety & depression 

Regulate Emotions

Improves working memory

Improves Overall Wellbeing

Develop/enhance Emotional Intelligence 

Helps to identify Stressors & Triggers

Uplifts Mood

Improve Immune System

Shifts Perspective

Using therapeutic journalling to write expressively has produced significants benefits for medical conditions:

Lung functioning in Asthma 

Reduction in severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms

Immune functioning in HIV

Chronic pelvic pain




Journal Therapy - the research... 

JT-The Research

Journal Therapy has been proven to have some significant health benefits, research has shown that's it can improve the writer's  moods, help work through traumas and even have positive effects on the physical body!

 Writing as a salve to soothe our wounds and conquer our demons has been demonstrated time over by some of the worlds greatest writers throughout the ages right up until this date.

A pioneering studying into the therapeutic benefits of journaling was, carried out by Psychologist James Pennebaker & Sandra Beall[1]  in the early 1980s. In this study one group of college students were asked to write for 15mins about their most traumatic or upsetting experiences with emphasis on their feelings rather than what happened; while the other (control group) were asked to write about pre-assigned topics such as the description of their room, shoes, a tree etc... 

This study found that the group who wrote about their most challenging and traumatic experiences reported a significant improvement 4 months later, with fewer trips to health centres and less day off.


Pennebaker & Beall suggested that ;

         ‘writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems’ (p. 280).

Since this time much research has carried out investigating writing as therapy and the results have shown a variety of benefits:

In a study headed by Joshua Smyth et al[2] a group of 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis participants were asked to write for 20 mins on three consecutive days. Of this group 71 wrote about emotionally stressful events and the remaining about  emotionally neutral topics. Participants who had written about their challenging emotions show significant improvement to their health after 4 months, asthma patients reported improved lung function and participants with rheumatoid arthritis had a reduction of severity in their symptoms!

Journaling about stressful life events has also shown to strengthen the immune system (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser & Glaser 1988[3]) while also helping to protect the body and regulate emotions ( Lepore, Greenburg, Bruno & Smyth 2002[4]). Its appears that those overwhelmed from negative emotions could use journalling to help them manage and even master these feelings. 

Heartbreak comes to us all with one face or another presenting us with some very painful, traumatic and challenging emotions and thoughts to deal with. A study (Lepore & Greenberg 2002[5]) looking into the effectiveness of expressive writing on heartbreak, mood, cognitive functioning and social adjustment took two groups and assigned them either the task of writing their deepest thoughts and feeling about the relationship and the other group were told to 'develop rational, or logical, arguments and do not express your feelings or emotional reactions to this issue...' All participants had experienced a break-up with a year of taking part in the study. Lepore & Greenburg[5] found that expressive writing had a wide range of advantages on mood, physical health and social functioning with those who wrote about their relationship expressively showing significant benefits.

Pennebaker[6] (1989) suggested that actively inhibiting our feelings and thought about traumatic event requires a lot of effort and in turn can increase the stress placed on the body. We also become more prone to obsessive thinking and rumination, but confronting, expressing and talking about the trauma can reduce the amount of physiological work placed on the body.

There is a large amount of research available supporting the use of therapeutic journalling and its effectiveness at helping us to acknowledge, accept and come to terms with very difficult situations in our lives........

Therapeutic Journalling can therefore an effective tool for Holistic Healing & Wellbeing!

Gold Personal Belongings

How to get Started @Home 

JT- get started w.r.i.t.e

There are many different ways to get started with journal therapy at home, and there are so many people who already keep a journal of some sort. When we journal for therapeutic reasons however, there are some differences, mainly that it is more structured, there is a goal and  we  take time to reflect on what we have written to gain insight into ourselves.

Kathleen Adams[7] atThe Centre for Journal Therapy outlines a useful acronym that can be used by anyone.



W -  What do you want to write about? Name it

R -  Review/Reflect on. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, what are you thought, feelings? 

I -  Investigate your thoughts and feelings, and just write! Allow whatever comes up  to flow onto the paper (or keyboard)

T -  Time yourself. Set an alarm if you have one, write for 5- mins

E -  Exit "smart". Read over what you have written and reflect on it in a few sentences






Your journal is a place for to express yourself without feeling the need to censor yourself, no one should have access to your writing without your permission!

Create a sacred space for your journal therapy writing time. You could use candles, incense, music that you like or sets the mood.A brief meditation beforehand can help to prepare the mind to write.

Don't worry about spelling or grammar, just write and keep writing

Be honest with yourself, write your truth no matter what that may be. We can't begin to heal until we know what needs healing!

There are no rules! So write freely, make use of prompts and different techniques and forget about perfection. There are so many ways to get started this is just one, be creative, keep different journals, or journal about different topic. Tackle your challenges one by one and be compassionate to yourself.




Please do be mindful of the emotions that writing is provoking for you, initially you may feel them more intensely has you give yourself space for conscious emotional expression likely for the first time! Do not hesitant to seek professional support or use the contact form for  guidance & support




Pennebaker, J. W., Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 274–281. 

Penn 1

Smyth, J. M., Stone, A. A., Hurewitz, A. et al (1999) Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized trial. JAMA The Journal of The American Medical Association 281, 1304–1309

2 Smyth et al

Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. & Glaser, R. (1988) Disclosure of traumas and immune function. Health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 239–245


Lepore, S. J., Greenberg, M. A., Bruno, M., & Smyth, J. M. (2002). Expressive writing and health: Self-regulation of emotion-related experience, physiology, and behavior. In S. J. Lepore & J. M. Smyth (Eds.), The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being (p. 99–117). American Psychological Association


Lepore, S. J., Greenberg, M. A., Bruno, M., & Smyth, J. M. (2002). Expressive writing and health: Self-regulation of emotion-related experience, physiology, and behavior. In S. J. Lepore & J. M. Smyth (Eds.), The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being (p. 99–117). American Psychological Association


Pennebaker, J. W. (1985) Traumatic experience and psychosomatic disease. Exploring the roles of behavioural inhibition, obsession, and confiding. Canadian Psychology, 26, 82–95.


Adams, K. It’s easy to W.R.I.T.E. Center for Journal Therapy. Retrieved from

Adams w.r.i.t.e.
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