Are you someone who goes to therapy but struggles with verbalizing your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during sessions? Do you find it challenging to present facts from your life using your words?
Are you a therapist who struggles to find the right way to approach hesitant, reticent, and “hiding” clients? Do you have a hard time trying to encourage younger clients to verbalize their emotions, thoughts, or behaviors?
If so, Susan Borkin, author of The Healing Power of Writing: A Therapist’s Guide to Using Journaling With Clients, suggests you pick up a pen.
Journaling, according to Borkin, is “[a]ny type of writing or related expressive process used for the purposes of psychological healing or growth.”
It includes jotting down thoughts and emotions, “as well as other less traditional techniques, such as dialoging between parts of the self, mind mapping, keeping a log, and using journaling with eye movement desensitization and processing or cognitive behavioral therapy, among other methodologies.”
And as a therapist myself, I know it is a powerful endeavor between therapist and client that can empower the client, enlighten the therapist, and open doors.
Many clients enter therapy with a striking apprehension that not only gets in the way of true personal growth, but causes them to become defensive toward their therapist and unable to benefit from the power of conversation. But with a trained, compassionate, and genuine therapist, journaling can become a very helpful endeavor. Borkin provides great case studies and research on the usefulness and healing power of writing, and how it can open up the connection.
I often provide journaling to my own clients who find it difficult to verbalize what bothers them. The tool has proven beneficial not only to them but also to myself, as I learn a great deal about the “internal, hidden world” of the client.
For fellow practitioners who have not yet tried journaling as an exercise in therapy, Borkin’s book can help — but be sure to read it with an open mind and to adapt her tips to your own flare or style.
One obstacle is that people often view journaling as a teenage endeavor that affords the adolescent privacy in their world. They picture a notebook with colorful pages and a lock and key. A journal is a book for minors, they think, children unable to voice their emotions or teenagers unable to express their crushes or deepest desires.
But journaling is really much more than this. It is a process that allows you to reflect upon your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during events in your life. It affords you the privacy to examine the behavior and attitudes of others and even re-inspect a situation from multiple angles. In other cases, journaling affords you the opportunity to write a “love letter” to yourself with inspirational sayings, reminders, and joyous memories.
When I journal (yes, even as a therapist I journal!), I find myself able to arrive at both logical and spiritual conclusions. I am able to spiritually look at myself and my interactions in the world more clearly. This provides a sense of identity, a sense of well-being, and consciousness.
Some other benefits of journaling, as Borkin writes, include cognitive processing (compiling fragmented thoughts and memories into a storyline), personal empowerment (helping clients become responsible for their own healing), confronting and regulating emotions (releasing difficult emotions and learning how to cope with them), and providing an adjunct to healing.
My experience is that having clients journal results in a stronger relational bond between us. It also allows me to peek inside the emotional mind and world of the person, which further helps our sessions.
Borkin gives us multiple ways that we can journal to make it effective and enjoyable. For therapists, she offers ways to structure your approach. And while her book is not really intended for clients themselves, it can provide any reader with some insight into why journaling is useful and how to begin.
For example, Borkin writes that journaling can come in various formats. There is narrative (starting at the earliest age remembered and working your way down to where you are now. This type of writing is done to tell a story about your journey, about your life, about changes in it); bullet points (offering short descriptions or facts about yourself and things that struck you as important, memorable, or life changing); mind map (creating connections between events and things in your life); and “stepping stones” (listing major life events that change you or appear life changing).
Whichever way you decide to try it — if you do decide to try it — make sure that it is something that fits your style. And keep in mind that journaling doesn’t require proper grammar, writing skills, or expertise. It is your own “therapy” session with yourself, and Borkin does a good job lighting the way.
The Healing Power of Writing: A Therapist’s Guide to Using Journaling With Clients
W. W. Norton & Company, March, 2014
Hardcover, 272 pages