Journaling - the act of writing out one's thoughts and feelings - has been done in one form or another for centuries. Much of what we know about great historical individuals comes from their own writing. Authors and spiritual/religious figures have found a natural affinity with the practice, as have scholars from myriad disciplines (witness the journals of Da Vinci). Even a blog like this one is a form of journal.
It's of no surprise, then, that therapists have come up with ways to harness the practice of journaling as a clinical intervention. After all, much of therapy involves trying to put one's internal experiences into words. Perhaps the bigger surprise is just how widely applicable journaling is, across diverse approaches to practice.
1) Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches
Journaling is a logical part of CBT and related approaches. Recording one's thoughts can be the first step in changing dysfunctional patterns. Tracking behavior can be enlightening to therapist and client alike, and simply tracking a given behavior can change its frequency. If mindfulness - awareness of the present moment - is a goal, a journal can be a place to practice recording all of one's present experience. I could go on, but you get the idea.
2) Psychodynamic Approaches
Journaling is used quite differently is psychodynamic or psychoanalytical therapy - as a way of moving things from the unconscious or subconscious mind to the conscious mind. This process often involves free association (writing everything that comes to mind without censoring), from which themes can be identified over time. It may also include recording dreams and fantasies.
3) Existential and Humanistic Approaches
These approaches focus on tapping into one's innate capacity for growth or adaptation by fostering awareness of the present moment, and matching one's thoughts, feelings, and actions with that awareness. Journaling can be used as a way of developing awareness of the present moment, as well as identifying those things that distract or detract from awareness.
4) Postmodern Approaches
This category of approaches, which reject the idea of objective truth, instead seeing all reality as socially constructed, and therefore changeable. The most common postmodern therapies are Narrative Therapy and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. Given these approaches' emphasis on helping clients to construct their own preferred versions of themselves and their lives/futures, journaling can be a place to practice constructing, and to "try on" different constructions. Furthermore, in Narrative Therapy, documents have a vital symbolic role in the change process, and a journal is of course a document.
Do you use journaling as a therapeutic intervention, and/or in your own personal life? How do you approach it, and how have you seen it help (or not help)?