The Healing Capacity of Journaling

Posted on April 1, 2021 by Rev. Pam Reidy under grief, loss, mourning
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I have twenty-three personal journals, written at various stages and experiences of my life. By far the one I return to more than the others is the one I kept for nine months during the final days and death of a close friend. At the time it was a means to cope and to manage stress, now it is a wellspring of wisdom and hope to which I return whenever I grieve the loss of someone I love.

Journaling is often recommended by therapists and clergy as a healing activity along grief’s journey. Journaling requires no special technique, level of education, or requisite style. A journal is a place to share the deepest part of oneself, and then step back to see our inner thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. In a journal we can write poems, stream of consciousness entries, night dreams, daydreams, record words or ideas that inspire us or keep a testament of memories and reactions. When grief becomes overwhelming, as it often can, a journal provides a place to leave it, so we can experience an essential respite.

If you have difficulty putting pen to paper, one method I like is proprioceptive writing, a technique I learned years ago. Based on the science that there are receptors in the brain that respond to Baroque music, composed from 1600 to 1750 this type of free flow writing is helpful for getting at some of our deepest thoughts, and it is so relaxing. Music by composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel are among my favorites.

The proprioceptive “write” is simple. Using a blank page, begin the music and start writing whenever you feel moved to start. Begin with a single word. Then do not write again, until you write a sentence.  The word or sentence do not matter, these are only initiators of the brain’s work. I let the word describe what I hear in the music. My sentence usually has no purpose, rhyme or reason. Once you have done these two steps, free write for twenty minutes, finishing up your current thought at that time. After reading your entry, take as long as you like answering in writing these two questions: “How do I feel now?” and “What story am I telling? Finish up by reading your entry aloud. I learned this process using blank sheets of paper but keeping entries in a book makes it easier to review and reflect on your journey.

Another approach to writing through your grief is to purchase a journal, specifically designed for this purpose. Several can be purchased on Amazon, such as journals for the death of a spouse, parent, friend, or general loss. One advantage to this type of journal is the writing prompts to address areas for healing. I recently purchased a grief journal called “The Good Mourning Journal”. It contains wonderful prompts, but the print is exceedingly small, and it needs to be purchased from Canada, so it took more than a month to arrive.

Choosing the best method and journal improve the experience. The journal I used for the loss of my friend several years ago was lined and spiral bound for ease of use.  Whatever method, no matter the type of journal, a commitment to writing on a regular basis will help the healing process.  If it causes you stress to write, this is not the method for you to work through your grief. Writing can be pleasurable and cathartic, even though it raises your pain to the surface.

Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration. It opens the door to God or, if you would to “Good Orderly Direction.”

Writing is a spiritual housekeeper. Writing sets things straight, giving us a sense of our true priorities.

Julia Cameron – The Right to Write


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