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Updated: Jan 7, 2022

Date: 01/01/22

Author Name: Bhavya P

Qualifications: BSc. Psychology, MA. Applied psychology, (specialization in clinical psychology)

Designation: Consultant psychologist, ACRO Mental Health Services.

Word count: 643

Reading time: 5 minutes

Reviewed by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya

Debates, for that matter, keeping a journal or maintaining a diary, have been "popularised" in recent decades. However, being professional and writing our thoughts and feelings is advocated for not being "popularised" but having its therapeutic benefit. When thoughts, ideas and a specific range of emotions are conveniently put onto a paper or a journal, thereby giving it a language, the process might ensure the ability to better focus on a task.

By engaging in this practice, clients tend to get a clearer picture instead, an alternate perspective in viewing their concern, and getting a holistic approach to work with it.

In a study exploring the benefit of expressive journals, writing about a particularly uncomfortable experience or past events has reduced intensity in the recurrence of thoughts, undoubtedly evident in anxiety and depression (1).


Writing about anxieties has improved cognitive performance, such as better concentration, decision-making, and finding strategic alternatives to concerns (2). In addition, expressive writing for a writer is personal, as it allows them to choose their writing style, be it in the flow and have the freedom to explore ideas as they write (3).


Research on expressive writing has its literature from theories. The first is based on the general idea of inhibition.

Studies showed that people who had experienced one or more traumatic experiences in their lives over time were more likely to report health concerns when they chose not to confide in others to express "what they feel about their traumatic experience" (4).

Controversially, it might not have to be just restricted to confiding in others; it’s rather about being provided with a safe and empathetic space to express ourselves.

Concerning this idea and supporting it, a study revealed that adopting an experiential approach to change through emotional validation and unconditional acceptance may prove to have a psychotherapeutic change (5).


Usually, while writing a journal, we may separate it into sections where different brainstorming ideas and racing thoughts are jotted down, only to structure it as a narrative. A study verbalises the constituents in expressive writings (1).

  • Topic/Thought/Concern- Briefing the concern and giving it a framework helps us recognise our emotions.

  • Brainstorming - is about recollecting to identify the shreds of evidence that may or may not support it.

  • Expressing our emotions- involves breaking the more profound concern into small parts, giving us insight into it and permitting us to have an alternative perspective.

  • Refinement, rethinking and reworking come under expressive writing, where we develop suggestions for ourselves.

Expressive writing can be used as a creative process to brainstorm, make connections, and offer clarity to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences.


Diary keeping is putting our thoughts, articulating them and organising themes and stories. These can be compiled as autobiographies and essays constructed and used for ethnographic research. Stories, however, are when our thoughts are structured and organised by giving them a holistic picture. Building a narrative around it can be critical in building self-awareness and insights on "what we feel" and how we feel" (6).

So, to be concise, this understanding and self-awareness might allow us to stand back and take a moment to look at ourselves from a different perspective. Keeping aside its therapeutic benefits, personally, it ensures the idea of being "listened to and a sense of shared identity".

In conclusion, although many therapists recommend journaling to express yourself, their method to make you inculcate this habit purely depends on your concerns and how well you respond to a particular suggestion, as every suggestion or therapeutic tips have their benefits and drawbacks. You can visit your nearest therapist or mental health service provider for more information and clarifications.

Audio-Visual Credits

  1. Writing with a fountain pen, Aaron Burden, Unsplash

  2. Laptop near white wooden mug and notebook by Nick Morrison, Unsplash

  3. Creative space, Toa Heftiba, Unsplash

  4. Black flat screen, Eietinne Giradet, Unsplash

  5. Vintage teal typewriter, Retrosupply, Unsplash


1. Smyth J, True N, Souto J. Effects of Writing About Traumatic Experiences: The Necessity for Narrative Structuring. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 2001;20(2):161-172.

2. Kacewicz E, Slatcher R, Pennebaker J. An alternative to traditional methods [Internet]. Research gate. 2006 [cited 14 December 2021]. Available from:

3. Gary C. Educational value of expressive writing. Department of Education, US. 2021;:11

4. Pennebaker J, Susman J. Disclosure of traumas and psychosomatic processes. Social Science & Medicine. 1988;26(3):327-332.

5. Ullrich P, Lutgendorf S. Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2002;24(3):244-250.

6. Klein K, Boals A. Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 2001;130(3):520-533.


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