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A Journal for Recovery: Writing For Mental Health

Some write about feelings. Some write about what they ate. Some write about the day’s goals.

Whatever the subject matter, identifying feelings and emotions is the key to keeping personal journals.

“Everyone has a story to tell,” said Vinland Mental Health Therapist Peggy Martin. “Journaling is a good way to share how that story unfolds.”

Martin touts the benefits of journaling to Vinland clients every day.

“Journaling is a more positive way to look at things,” she said. “It does take courage. Often clients get stuck in their past or present reality and view the future less positively.”

That’s where keeping a journal can have a huge impact.

“People have found journaling helpful in terms of long term recovery,” Martin said. “As we talk to those who do keep journals we find they have an increased ability to recognize emotions.”

It’s not easy for some to keep a journal. The task of writing can be formidable to some. Often it’s not always about writing feelings down or even writing at all.

“Some people feel it can be daunting to write down feelings so sometimes we do a system of writing a letter down for the day on how they feel then or three things they’re thankful for that day,” Martin said. “Sometimes they draw instead.”

For some clients, journaling has been a great step in illness management and recovery.

“They can begin to track symptoms like writing down ‘I feel anxious when,’ or ‘I see an increase in my symptoms when,’’’ Martin said. “Doing that sometimes seems like less of a concern and not as private like it is with writing down emotions. But it does still help in identifying emotions.”

Fear of what to write isn’t the only challenge. Some clients fear others, like roommates, finding and reading their journals. Clients are free to share insights from what they’ve written down with others, but are never made to do so.

“We journal in group and help with prompts like ‘I’m a person who’ and the client finishes the sentence in their journal,” Martin said. “This eases them into journaling or writing down emotions.”

Martin also discusses the benefits of journaling with clients and shares excerpts from famous journals like Anne Frank’s diary.

“Often we need more journals, typically for the women, but men have enjoyed journaling too,” Martin said. “Women’s and men’s recovery are very different. Some clients keep two journals, one for feelings or emotions and the other for mental health.”

Writing down three things someone’s going to do today is a helpful exercise for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries as well, she said.

Keeping a journal is on the honor system. Staff members do not check to see how much or little a client has written in their journal. It is all left up to the client.

“Journals are often a tangible way for clients’ to see improvement whether that’s in physical or mental health,” Martin said. “Often writing things down identifies triggers for chemical dependency as well.”

Martin honors the courage it takes for Vinland clients to keep a journal in whatever form suits them.