Start writing in that journal you got last year for a birthday present…

I have had several clients (ok… it’s more than that…) who don’t like the idea of journaling when they start working with me. I have to break it down to them as if they were back in 6th grade and I was their teacher.

Student: “But Mr. Spiegel…. Writing notes is borrrrring. I never look back on them and I remember everything just fine without them!”

Me: “Have you ever thought ‘why’ that is the case?”

Student: “I guess I just don’t need to write things down. I have a great memory!”

Me: “Nope. Maybe it is because the capacity for memory is directly related to the physical process of writing down information. Plus, I don’t make you write down ‘just the facts’, do I?”

Student: “Argh… nooo. You make us write what we are thinking about the stuff we have to write about. .. annnnd how we feel about it. Are you talking sciencey stuff again?”

Me: “Yes, I’m talking about science and the evolution of our brains.”

This exchange is repeated over and over again in my work with adults. We forget that our memory is an active, working part of our lives that needs constant interaction and reflection. It’s purpose is, in part, to help us problem solve and process difficult parts of our personal journeys through life. Journaling is a VERY important part of that process and some argue an integral part of it.

Let’s look at some research:

According to Ullrich, et al. “Writing about personally experienced stressors or traumatic events has been associated with improvements in mental and physical health in numerous investigations.”

I’m not surprised at all.

When reflecting on our past, the physical process of writing down the letters and words (not just typing them down) has an impact on parts of our brain that are associated with memory, problem solving, and emotional resilience. It is as if our brains are wired to experience the memory of the event differently when we slow down our recording of it via writing over typing. It’s gives pause to our over-active brains and allows us to confront and deal with those difficult things in our past and process them in a healthy way. I try to think of journaling as our brain’s personal therapist, a first line of therapy to put things in perspective and assess if we need more counseling. That being said, I would never recommend using journaling as the only method of dealing with trauma. There are some things that need to be processed with a professional who is trained in working with people as they sort through traumatic events in their lives.

That being said, there are benefits associated with regular journaling (by hand, not typing on a keyboard) that Ullrich also reported on:

  • Less stress (catharsis)
  • Fewer doctor’s visits
  • Positive changes in immune function (you get sick less often)

That’s enough for me to get back to journaling on a regular basis. For my ‘month challenge” for the month of October, I will embark on trying to journal for 5-20 minutes per day.

Who’s with me?

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