Both therapy and journaling are popular methods of dealing with mental health issues, and they boast many of the same benefits. However, therapy is often expensive and time-consuming, while journaling is accessible for everyone. So could journaling replace therapy?
The answer depends on the reason behind seeking help. Journaling can help you deal with stress and practice introspection, but overcoming deep depression or beating an eating disorder will require some form of therapy. While journaling isn’t suitable for the treatment of mental disorders and severe emotional traumas, it can be a good addition to therapy or just a tool for self-discovery.
In this article, I’ll take a look at the role of journaling in and out of therapy, when it can be used, and when it can’t.
What Is Therapy And When Is It Used?
Therapy refers to the process of working with a therapist to resolve mental health issues or problems that hinder everyday functioning. There are various approaches to therapy, but generally, it is a long-term process that can be quite costly, depending on where you live.
The cost and commitment are often what drives people away from therapy or makes them hesitate to seek some. This can also drive people to seek out cheaper and more accessible alternatives, like internet counseling, self-help books, or journaling.
However, therapy is necessary in cases of fully developed mental disorders like clinical depression or eating disorders, or in cases of deep trauma that severely impact everyday functioning. In these cases, even counseling – an intervention focused on less severe problems – won’t cut it.
Therapy comes in many forms, the most popular of which is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, which aims to change unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior (hence: cognitive meaning thought, and behavioral meaning… behavior). CBT has been proven to be effective for a wide range of disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, as well as depression, and anxiety.
CBT is the most common form of talk therapy, and mostly what people picture when thinking about therapy, but alongside, there is ACT – therapists sure love their acronyms! – or acceptance and commitment therapy. ACT is focused on accepting and embracing emotional experiences for what they are, no matter how unpleasant or negative.
It’s this acceptance that allows people to find healthy ways to deal with emotional pain. To achieve this, ACT also incorporates mindfulness techniques, which provides many additional benefits.
In addition to more traditional talk therapies, there are different art therapies that focus on treating disorders and healing trauma through drama, visual arts like painting or drawing, or music and dance.
Another form of therapy is family or couples therapy, which focuses on improving everyday functioning through resolving relationship conflicts. Family therapy is often also used to treat children’s mental disorders, as relationships within the family play a large part in children’s mental health.
What Is Journaling And When Is It Used?
Journaling is the act of using journal writing for introspection or self-improvement. Outside of self-improvement, journals can just be used as a tool to record memories of particular experiences or simply your day-to-day life.
Just like therapy, journaling is effective in many different scenarios. For example, journaling can be used for improving memory and self-awareness, as well as coping with anxiety and stress. It has been found that journaling can improve learning and be a source of empowerment.
Journaling can take the form of long and detailed introspective entries or just short lists of what you’re grateful for on any given day. Journaling can be done free-form or as a reply to a prompt (e.g. what qualities do you value the most in yourself and others?).
A very simple form of journaling are different trackers that can quantify your moods, feelings, or well-being. For example, a habit tracker can help you keep on track with healthy habits and behaviors, while a mood or happiness tracker can create a visual representation of your feelings that you can look back on and analyze.
If you’re a more artistic person, and writing doesn’t appeal to you, art journals are also a great way to practice introspection through a visual medium.
Journaling is often used as a first self-managed intervention in cases of stress or burn-out, or when someone’s general outlook on life is negative. People also often reach for a journal when going through difficult changes in life, like a break-up or the loss of a loved one.
But, as I mentioned before, journaling can just be used to give a physical form to your memories, so you have something to look back on later.
Journaling As A Therapeutic Tool
There is something called journal therapy, which is pretty self-explanatory – it’s journaling with a therapeutic purpose. It can be done alone or with an instructor or therapist.
Generally, in therapy, any journal exercises are just one part of a larger framework. Journaling can help you keep track of your progress in between two therapy sessions, and prompt you to deeper self-analysis, but it’s not the magic ingredient that makes therapy successful.
That is why journaling can’t be a replacement for therapy in cases when therapy is clearly needed: deep traumas and disorders that impair your daily functioning to a significant degree are best dealt with with the help of a professional. Although journaling boasts many benefits – and rightly so – I cannot ethically endorse journaling as an alternative to treatment.
Here’s what journaling can be:
- a way to get to know yourself;
- a way to relieve stress and prevent burnout;
- a way to keep track of your habits and moods;
- a way to make more sense of your issues and personal challenges before seeking professional help, or while waiting for your first appointment;
- a tool to support therapy or counseling.
Journaling is a wonderful tool for introspection and stress-relief, and what’s more, it’s available to anyone at any time, for free. Therapy on the other hand can be expensive and time-consuming, so it’s no surprise that people seek out alternatives. Unfortunately, journaling can never be a replacement for therapy as a treatment. However, journaling can be used to support therapeutic goals, and as a powerful self-help strategy when therapy isn’t needed, with numerous benefits to reap. Why not grab a pen and try it out?
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