Mental Health Experts Speak Out: The Many Benefits of Journaling

Journaling is more than a fantastic hobby. It helps you remember things, sort out your emotions, embrace positivity, a life a happier, more productive life.

Don’t take our word for it. We asked mental health experts across the country to speak out on the benefits of journaling, and they responded in force!

Here’s what seventeen therapists, coaches, counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists say about the positive impacts journaling can have on your life.

The Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health

Prevent Avoidance

Dan Ford, licensed psychologist and Clinical Director of the Better Sleep Clinic, says that although there’s no consensus on why journaling is so helpful, one theory is that it prevents avoidance and forces patients to face trauma. Ford explains that when patients don’t disclose stressful experiences, either verbally or through writing, they suppress those thoughts, forcing the physical stress system to work harder, which leads to poorer health outcomes.

Journaling involves confronting those experiences rather than suppressing them. Ford says repeated exposure to a stressor can reduce its intensity over time. He cited studies showing that those who journal about their stressful experiences have fewer depressive symptoms.

Gain New Perspective

Billy Roberts, a licensed therapist who focuses on patients with ADHD, says that journaling can help patients gain perspective on the negative thoughts they experience in a safe and structured way.

Roberts explains that our thoughts and feelings guide our behavior but cautions that we sometimes act in ways that don’t align with our values when we don’t understand what’s happening with our emotions. Journaling helps us process those thoughts and feelings, allowing us to understand why we act a certain way. This new perspective on our emotions and behaviors can help us shift our behavior and act in ways that serve our best interests.

Relieve Bottled Up Emotions

Meagan Turner, licensed associate professional counselor, believes journaling is beneficial because it helps relieve bottled-up emotions. She continues to say that over time, journaling reduces stress, lowers biological responses like increased heart rate, and diminishes the brain’s fear response.

The act of writing affects our underlying biological processes. It changes your emotional state and, as a result, can change your health behaviors.

Become Conscious of Thought Patterns

Psychotherapist Abby Wilson, LCSW, encourages her clients to journal as a coping mechanism. She believes journaling leads to positive outcomes because it helps people become more aware of their thought patterns, allowing us to recognize when we have unhelpful or negative thoughts.

When we are more conscious of our thought patterns, we gain control of our minds and can shift our thoughts to be positive and helpful.

Wilson doesn’t claim that clients who journal have better outcomes than those who don’t. Instead, she believes journaling is one of many ways to process and shift thoughts. It can be incredibly effective, but each person has different needs and preferences.  

Understand Who is Responsible for Emotions

Dr. Jim Schlinsog, the owner of a private counseling practice in Memphis, says one significant benefit of journaling is that it helps people understand themselves and their interactions with others.

Dr. Schlinsog explains that many of his clients blame themselves for everyone else’s problems and reactions but that journaling helps them understand that each person is only responsible for their own emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Clients can stop blaming themselves for other people’s reactions.

Journaling Positively Impacts Physical Health

Trish Glynn, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida, stresses the benefits of journaling for physical wellness in addition to mental health.

Glynn says that journaling for 15 minutes three days a week has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost memory and comprehension, and improve your overall mood. Researchers have studied the impact of journaling on health conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and cancer, all with initial positive results.

Gain Awareness of Yourself Across Time

Ginelle Krummey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor specializing in burnout recovery and prevention. Anecdotally, Krummey has noticed a difference in clients who naturally journal versus those who don’t, and although she stresses there’s no right or wrong method of processing thoughts, those who journal tend to be more aware of their growth over time.  

Krummey explains that people who have journaled their entire lives have the advantage of evidence of their past selves, which they can rely on to tell the story of how they were at a given point in time. 

Someone who started journaling recently can only rely on their memories, what they recall thinking and feeling at any given moment, and the reports others make about the past. Journaling over time offers people more opportunities for emotional exploration and the ability to visualize their growth over time.

Monitor Your Growth

Heather Wilson, Executive Director at Epiphany Wellness, says that journaling can help clients track their progress as they work towards achieving their goals. Recording the positive steps you take, and your success can keep you motivated.

Wilson explains that tracking your progress and accomplishments increases your sense of control, which may help you stay focused and driven to follow through on goals.

Change the Way We Think

John F. Tholen, Ph.D. and author of Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind, says that journaling can change the way we think.

Tholen reveals that although we believe our emotions and motivations result from circumstances and events outside of our control, they are actually reactions to our internal monologue, which interprets the experience to create our perspective. Often, our interpretations our incomplete and even unreasonable.

Journaling helps us identify our counterproductive thoughts, allowing us to shift our attention to more reasonable and balanced alternatives. Tholen calls this journaling method “focused positive strategy” and says it helps us understand our negative thoughts so we can change our behavior toward constructive action.

Safely Express Emotions

Dr. Elena Duong is a licensed psychologist practicing in California. She believes one of the top benefits of journaling is that it gives people a safe space to express their emotions.

Duong explains that suppressing emotions harms our overall health. Journaling gives us an outlet for emotions, which prevents us from internalizing or hiding them. It also helps us process emotions, allowing us to manage them rather than become dysregulated by them.

Reduce Stress

Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, LSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP is the clinical director at Absolute Awakenings and considers stress reduction a top benefit of therapeutic journaling.

Therapeutic journaling is writing down your thoughts and feelings in a productive and healthy way, allowing you to express feelings safely and productively. This process can help you deal with stressful situations more effectively.

Kotkin-De Carvalho also says that journaling helps people relax, thus reducing stress and preventing physical symptoms associated with stress, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Prevents Unwanted Biological Reactions

Psychologist Dr. Garry Spink describes how journaling can help us prevent unwanted physiological reactions. Our bodies evolved to handle stressful situations with the fight-flight-or-freeze response, but those aren’t always appropriate reactions in the modern age.

Spink cites research that shows that journaling about emotional events for 20 minutes decreases your arousal, reducing your physiological responses. Spink says there are many working theories regarding how journaling works to minimize these responses. One is behavioral theory, which suggests that exposure to stressful situations over time leads to better stress regulation and reduced stress in similar situations. Journaling can be a form of exposure, forcing you to sit with uncomfortable emotions rather than avoid them.

Take a Break from Thinking

Productivity expert David Allen hints at the benefits of journaling with his idea of the external brain. He says that recording our thoughts lets us let go of them, freeing our minds to focus on more important things.

Allen stresses that it doesn’t have to be a journal. Calendars, planners, notebooks, recording devices, or anything else that helps you get the thoughts out of your head can work as an external brain. Journals work well, though, and are simple devices that can capture your ideas, freeing your brain from dwelling on them.

Getting Closure

Ellie Borden, BA, RP, PCC, and clinical director of Mind by Design Psychology and Coaching Clinics, says journaling can be a powerful therapeutic tool for getting closure. She mentions the research of Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas to explain the idea.

Many people struggle with intrusive thoughts about an adverse event or experience, and as much as we try to push those thoughts away, they keep bursting to the forefront.

Borden reveals the reason behind this phenomenon. If we haven’t processed a traumatic event, our subconscious minds assume we don’t have a solution for it and thus remain on edge in case the threat reappears. Therefore, we constantly remind ourselves of the event in an effort to prevent further harm.

Journaling helps people attend to their emotional wounds. People should write about their trauma until they completely understand what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid similar things from happening again. Using a journal to process these events can help put your psyche at ease, allowing you to move forward.

Remembering How Far You’ve Come

Dr. Ramon Presson, licensed marriage and family therapist at the Marriage Counseling Center of Franklin, loves journaling as a way to revisit your past. He says that if you aren’t revisiting your journal entries as a reader, you’re only getting half the value from journaling.

Rereading your journal as a witness is a powerful experience. You will read about some experiences and reactions you had forgotten, and will rediscover treasures that would have been lost if they had not been stored in writing.

Ramon recommends writing updates on previous entries to fully explore how far you’ve come. Write about how you feel as you review the entry and remember the incident, explore how you felt when it initially happened, and record what you’ve learned since then. Take it a step further and consider what you’d tell yourself about the event if you could.

As your journey progresses, you’ll create multiple volumes full of insight and wisdom into yourself and the world around you.

Create Internal Validation

Ileana Arganda-Stevens, LMFT and Program manager at Thrive Therapy & Counseling, says journaling is beneficial because it can create internal validation. Many struggle to validate their feelings, leading to various mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. The need for validation may also strain relationships, as people invest time and energy into seeking external validation from others.

Journaling can serve as a tool for internal validation. Both the physical act of writing and the mental act of reviewing our words can help us realize that our feelings are real and they matter. We can use journaling to practice responding to our thoughts and feelings in a compassionate way, wich, with practice will become second nature and allow us to gain benefits from it throughout our lives. 

 Journaling as a means of self-validation can ease the pressure we place on others and may help lessen our feelings of disappointment when others can’t offer us the validation we seek.

Improve Productivity

The benefits of journaling go beyond mental health and wellness. Emma Williams, certified strengths and career coach and Chief Research Officer at High5, says journaling is an effective tool for improving productivity. She explains that writing your goals in an organized way helps you clarify your priorities and keep you focused on what’s important.

Williams recommends the bullet journal method developed by Ryder Carrol but says it’s more important to find something that fits your lifestyle than to use a specific tool.

Boosts Creativity

Another great benefit of journaling that’s not specifically related to mental health is that it boosts creativity. Art journals give us space for our artistic creations, junk journals force us to create our own creative space with the things we have available, and normal lined journals give us the opportunity to explore fictional worlds. 

Journaling offers many of us a creative outlet that we can carry with us wherever we go. 

Why is Journaling so Therapeutic?

Sarah Watson, psychologist, certified coach, and COO of BPTLAB, says journaling is therapeutic for numerous reasons. Writing our thoughts and feelings down can help us gain insight into our emotions and behaviors, resolve past trauma, and develop strategies for managing difficult situations.

Psychologist Jenna Mayhew of Hola Therapy says there are numerous theories explaining why journaling is therapeutic, and the likely cause may be a mixture of these views. Habituation theory claims writing is a form of exposure therapy, cognitive processing theory states that writing allows us to form a coherent narrative of our experiences, Self-regulation theory explains how journaling helps us control emotions, and social integration theory reveals how writing about trauma affects the way people interact with their social world.

Regardless of why it works, most mental health experts’ consensus is that journaling has tangible benefits.

How to Best use Journaling for Positive Outcomes

Are you journaling for increased wellness and improved mental health? It’s not as simple as putting pen to paper.

Here are six tips from the above experts on how to best use journaling to improve your mental health and wellness.

1. Focus

Dr. Ford says that journaling is more likely to be effective when it’s specifically focused on a particular stressor.

2. Make it a Habit

Turner says that writing for 20 minutes over 30 consecutive days is enough to show improvements in depression symptoms for at least four weeks.

3. Dive Deep

Glyn stresses that journaling is more than writing down mundane lists of what you’ve been doing. To reap the benefits of journaling, you need to dig deep and consider the experiences you’ve had and the associated thoughts.

4. End on a High Note

Glyn also says that ending a session on a high note can lead to better outcomes. She recommends ending with a short gratitude list.

5. Use What Works for You

Dr. Tholen reminds us that journaling doesn’t have to be about pen and paper. If you prefer a journaling app on your cell phone, use that. A dedicated file on your personal computer also works. Use the tools you’re comfortable with to engage with your journal.

You can should also consider getting a specific type of journal geared towards your personal journey. 

6. Start Small

Arganda-Stevens says to start small. Your first journal entries don’t have to be profound. Even journaling about the frustrations of not knowing what to write can help you get started.

Those who genuinely want to journal but can’t think of anything to write about should consider using prompts. Journal prompts are conversation starters with yourself, giving you a starting point for your introspective journey. 

Start Journaling and Reap the Benefits

These comments from mental health professionals showcase the numerous benefits of journaling for mental health and wellness.

Grab your journal and start reaping the benefits in your own life today!