Journaling: A Therapeutic Tool for Addiction Recovery
The key to journaling (or therapeutic writing) is that you use it to interpret, understand, and learn from your experiences in life.¹ It’s not enough to just write down your feelings in a notebook each day. Thoughtful and purposeful journaling is what will aid in personal growth and healing throughout addiction recovery.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that journaling may not help all individuals process traumatic or painful experiences, research has shown that it does provide mental, emotional, psychological—even physical—benefits for others.²
Anyone can adopt a habit of journaling. You don’t have to be a professional writer, an “artistic type,” or have any sort of skill for stringing beautiful sentences together. If you think therapeutic writing may help, try it out for yourself.
Strategies for Therapeutic Writing
Recovery journals may come in a variety of formats, from online blogs and notebooks to simple notes on your iPhone. The important thing is that it works for you.
There are also many different types of journals you may choose to adopt for your own recovery journal. A few options include:
- Record of daily events – Although similar to a diary, in order to be effective, this type of journal should focus on the emotional impact of your day-to-day events. This could include any thoughts you had about daily activities and events, your perception of those things, as well as your immediate and delayed reactions to them.
- Spiritual journey – Whether you believe in a God or a force of nature, writing about your interactions and thoughts pertaining to your higher power is an effective way to catalog your spiritual journey. Spiritual health is a large part of recovery and wellness, and therapeutic journaling may help you uncover deeply buried thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.
- Health log – Documenting your meals and exercise routines is a great way to keep yourself accountable to your health goals in recovery. Keeping a record of your moods and corresponding meals may also help you draw a connection between your emotions and your eating habits. This self-awareness can lead you to make conscious decisions about your health despite your emotional ups and downs. You can also take this journaling approach for any other recovery goals you have as a way to log success and achievements.
- Therapy recaps – Writing down the things you discussed with your therapist in your most recent session can provide additional understanding and healing or prompt further discussion in your next session.
- Dream journal – Keeping a record of your dreams may provide insight into previous trauma, fear or ongoing struggles that are affecting your recovery. Although your dreams may not always have a meaning, they can provide revealing patterns and themes that play a role in your conscious life.
Your counselor may also be able to provide you with some writing prompts that he or she believe would be of benefit to your recovery.
Benefits of Journal Writing In Recovery
There are many different benefits and advantages of journaling, especially for those who are recovering from addiction. Some of these benefits include:
- Increasing your self-awareness – Journaling can help you uncover thought and behavior patterns that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Even the reality of an unhealthy relationship can be uncovered after months or years of writing about it.
- Keeping a record of your progress – Sometimes it can be difficult to see how far you’ve come. Journaling allows you to keep a record of where you were then and where you are now, so you can look back and be encouraged by your own progress.
- Organizing your thoughts – Researchers have found that writing about emotional experiences is associated with significant reductions in stress.³ Journaling on a consistent basis can be an effective and constructive way to organize anxious thoughts and feelings.
- Providing another opportunity for growth – By integrating therapeutic writing into your regular routine, you are consistently challenging yourself to take a deeper look at your thoughts and behaviors. Continual self-assessment leads to ongoing growth and additional opportunities to improve your mental, spiritual and emotional well-being.
Starting Your Own Recovery Journal
If you’re ready to start writing in your own recovery journal, there are just a few steps you need to take to get started.
- Decide on a format.
Whether a pen and paper suits you best or an online blog is what you prefer, choose a format that will be easy for you to stick to on a consistent basis.
- Try out different styles to find one that works.
If you’re unsure about what type of journal you’d like to keep, take some time to experiment. Just because a recap of your therapy sessions doesn’t seem to provide any additional benefit, doesn’t mean a health log will not.
- Work with your counselor to develop a list of writing prompts.
Your counselor can help you get started if you decide to keep your own recovery journal. He or she may also be able to develop a list of writing prompts with you to get things going.
- Make it a habit.
Self-awareness takes time and you may not always reap the benefits of your journaling right away. Give it some time and be consistent. Within a few weeks, months or years, you may begin to see how you’ve grown with the aid of your therapeutic writing.