I often talk to clients about the benefits of writing outside of counselling sessions. The act of writing in journals or even just on post-it notes, for some can have a real therapeutic effect. Riordan (1996) writes “writing may evoke curative factors sooner and with equal or even greater intensity than counselling without writing”.
For me it is a demonstration that the client is willing to work on themselves and wishes to engage wholeheartedly in the counselling process. Don’t get me wrong though, clients who don’t write in a journal are still working hard on themselves, just in different ways.
During my counselling training I undertook a piece of research into the benefits of writing therapeutically and I used myself as the data subject. During my own personal therapy I kept a journal and I reviewed the impact that had on my personal learning.
I found I used my journal in several different ways. I wrote reflections on the content of my sessions and reviews of this before the next session to cognitively reflect on my learning and what I wanted to discuss. I felt I was counselling myself, for example:
“Looking back I see I often have polar opinions both at the same time” (Journal extract, 24 July 2012)
I wanted to work outside the sessions to maximize the benefits. I found this helped me get to the underlying root of my anxiety quicker. Most of my entries were on the day of the session which shows I used it as an extension of the counselling hour.
I also found I used my journal to write about things I had not yet told my counsellor and to reflect on why I had not yet been able to do so. Exploring my issues privately gave me the confidence to share them the following session with my counsellor.
I would write in a stream of consciousness style which I found very cathartic as I did not censor myself. This was the biggest benefit for me as I could meet myself fully. I was able to stand back and look at myself objectively; I could see the counselling process at work which was very affirming.
Back in my client work now I hear client’s talk about using a journal to help order their thinking. Others use it just to note down positive affirmations about themselves, their achievements and how they are working towards their goals. All too often, we have tendency to negatively filter our perception of things. Actively focusing on and writing down our positive attributes allows us to get a better balanced perspective on ourselves.