Journal therapy involves the therapeutic use of a journaling practice to bring about awareness and improve mental health. The biggest difference in therapeutic journaling from just keeping a personal journal is therapeutic journaling focuses more on thoughts, feelings, and insights.
By being intentional about your writing, you can identify areas where you are struggling and start implementing change, whether you struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or even just the use of cognitive distortions.
The therapeutic benefits of keeping a mental health journal can be endless.
Here are 7 therapeutic benefits of keeping a mental health journal [affiliate].
As well as 53 journal prompts that will help get you started, so you hopefully do not find yourself staring at a blank page trying to figure out where to start.
Mental clarity through journaling
Especially as we get older, time tends to fly right past us. And sometimes, it feels like it is flying by so quickly that we barely get a chance to process it. Before the next barrage of thoughts and feelings show up. And this is where journaling can come in.
Journaling helps us slow down for a few minutes to get some clarity in our lives. Because sometimes, we find ourselves trapped in patterns of thoughts and behaviors that do not make much sense to us. At least at the time. By keeping a journal, we can get some clarity in our lives and identify those thoughts, feelings, and patterns.
That without journaling, we might not have been able to identify. With journaling, we can get a different perspective on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and a chance to learn from them. What inspires and motivates us. And what we shy away from out of discomfort or fear.
Journaling offers the opportunity to observe our lives from a third-party perspective and track our decision-making processes and the consequences of those decisions. So hopefully, over time, we can make new or better decisions.
Patterns in thoughts and feelings
Do you ever find yourself engaging in patterns of thoughts and feelings? While journaling helps us build a stronger connection with our thoughts and feelings. By offering a space where you can write openly and honestly. And helps us to sort through why we are thinking and feeling how we are thinking and feeling.
So, while the pages of your journal give you the space to write openly and honestly, it should not become the place where you spiral into hopeless despair, sometimes also referred to as the rabbit hole.
Instead, the purpose of a journal should be a place where you can reflect on the patterns that emerge. And either uncover where they are coming from or form a plan to address or challenge those thoughts and feelings moving forward.
How you talk to yourself about yourself (the inner critic)
We all experience internal thoughts and have some form of internal dialogue. Some people have a fairly healthy internal dialogue, and for others, they have an unhealthy internal dialogue. Some folks are pretty aware of their internal dialogue, and others are not. Whether you are fairly aware or unaware, journaling can help you gain better awareness.
The way we talk to ourselves influences our levels of happiness and success. But, unfortunately, it also influences our levels of unhappiness and lack of success. Your internal dialogue can be your greatest enemy or your most powerful ally, depending on how you use it. You can’t control every thought that comes into your head because we have automatic thoughts. These are the thoughts that come unbidden and suddenly pop up. However, you can control your second thought and all of the thoughts that come after it.
Journaling can be the space that you need to record your automatic thoughts. This can help you create an awareness of how you talk to yourself and even the tones you talk to yourself.
Journaling can also be a safe space where you can begin to make changes in your internal dialogue and tone. At the very least, you can begin to recognize when you have an unhelpful automatic thought and begin to change how you are thinking consciously.
Journaling creates the space and opportunity to intentionally change how you think by getting those thoughts on paper. It offers you the distance and the perspective that you need to look at these thoughts, written by your own hand and in your own words.
Self-talk is far too powerful to be lazy with. And with journaling, you can perhaps gain the awareness that you need to consciously take control over how you talk to yourself about yourself.
Helps you visualize the changes you want to make
Journaling provides an outlet and helps you visualize where you want to go. One of the many benefits of journaling is it gives you an outlet for your thoughts and emotions. In addition, journaling provides you with space where you can express yourself honestly.
You can begin to break down the things you are struggling with into smaller pieces that feel less overwhelming; journaling offers an efficient solution, problem-solving.
By reading over previous journal entries, you may begin to see a pattern emerge. This pattern can be a great way to discover where you need to implement changes, even if they are just little things or small new habits that create change.
Your small wins, insight, and inspiration
As a mental health therapist, I see folks struggle with this all the time. I have folks that come to me each week with a laundry list of all the things that didn’t go right since the previous week. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you are walking around with an unhealthy internal dialogue and are only acknowledging (consciously or unconsciously) the negatives in your life, you are almost setting things up to guarantee a fail. But, on the other hand, when you focus exclusively on the negatives, it becomes a way to support your hypothesis and internal dialogue.
So if your hypothesis and internal dialogue are “I’m a failure,” and all of your focus is on the things that are not going right or going well. There is almost a satisfaction in finding evidence to support your hypothesis and internal dialogue.
Because out of all the things in life that we cannot control, at least you feel that you can control this. The hypothesis and internal dialogue of “I’m a failure” becomes the one area of your life you feel you can control.
But by journaling about your small wins, insights, and moments of inspiration, you can begin to challenge your hypothesis and internal dialogue. By focusing on the wins, insights, and inspirations, you begin to shift your negative mood states and cognitions. By making this shift, you can begin to move towards whatever your goals or aspirations are.
Self-reflection a new perspective
Through journaling, you can begin to do some self-reflective work. You can identify your beliefs, morals, and values. And you can also begin to identify your limiting beliefs too. So often, our “I can’t… because I’m not…” statements that we say to ourselves keep us stuck.
By using a journal as a space for self-reflection, you can begin to discover where your beliefs, morals, and values, as well as your limiting beliefs, come from. We often inherit these things from our primary caregivers, and they are passed down through the generations. And through journaling, you can begin to discover where you have learned these things, especially when it comes to the limiting beliefs that we so often want to change.
And it is through moments of self-reflection, we can gain the perspectives that we need to decide if we want to change something that we have held onto. So through the act of journaling, you can begin to recognize the themes that are coming up for you. And through journaling, you can reflect on what you want to change to have the life you want to have.
Your personal growth
Have you ever stopped and looked at your life and wondered how you got to where you are? Life happens so quickly that we rarely get the opportunity to stop and reflect on our life. We rarely stop to contemplate how far we have come. So often feel like we are chasing (a potentially unknown) destination, and we don’t know how we have gotten here. And journaling gives us an amazing gift. It tracks your personal growth and the decisions that have led you to where you are now.
But what if you are at a destination you don’t want to be at or remain at longer than necessary? This is another gift that journaling offers you. The opportunity to look back at your decisions and make new different decisions. It makes me think of a fairly common saying. You don’t know what you don’t know.
And if you find yourself in a part of your life and don’t know how you have gotten there, this is where journaling can come in handy. Whether you have entries that you can refer back to, or if you’re starting with journaling, you can begin to discover and document the things that you didn’t know.
Human beings, for the most part, are pleasure-seeking creatures. Therefore, we tend to avoid things that cause us pain or discomfort or what we think will cause increased pain or discomfort.
So we choose the lesser of the two. But sometimes, to experience personal growth, we have to lean into the discomfort. And sometimes, we have to read and reread our stories to find those opportunities for personal growth.
Here is a list of 56 journaling prompts for therapeutic journaling. I have broken down this list of journal prompts into categories to help get you started.
10 Therapeutic journaling prompts for a bad day
- Describe your day and what about it is bothering you. What were you thinking and feeling?
- What are some helpful things to tell yourself on difficult days?
- Did you have any negative thoughts today, and how can you reframe them to be more helpful?
- Make a list of things that you are grateful for.
- If a day like today happens again, what are some helpful ways for you to get through it? If you can control it, what do you need to do differently? And if you can’t control it, how can you begin to accept it?
- Reflect on the last time you had a bad day. What were some helpful things that you said or did to get through it?
- Make a list of self-care ideas you can do when struggling.
- Research and write about managing anxious thoughts when you have them.
- What are three important things that you can remind yourself of when you struggle with negative emotions?
- What have past experiences taught you about your resiliency? And what can this experience teach you moving forward?
28 Therapeutic journaling prompts for self-reflection
- How can you encourage yourself to get out of your comfort zone?
- What are some things that you need to remind yourself of when you are having a hard time shifting your mindset?
- If you could travel back in time, what would you tell your teenage self that would help you now?
- What are 3 things that your best friends would say that you do well? And what are 3 things that your best friends would say that you struggle with? What do you need to do to begin to work on those things?
- If you were to have a perfect day, what would you be thinking and feeling? And how do your thoughts and feelings influence your day?
- What new habits or daily routine can you implement to empower you?
- Are there boundaries that you need to set with yourself or others, and if so, what is the first thing that you need to do?
- How do you set boundaries and avoid absorbing other people’s stuff?
- How do you know when you are nearing burnout, and what mental health issues do you experience?
- What does your authentic self look like?
- How do you remind yourself that you are enough even when you have a tough time or a difficult experience?
- What are 3-5 things that you need in that present moment when you are struggling?
- What new opportunities have come out of the challenges that you have faced?
- How do you calm your anxiety when you are experiencing difficult times?
- When you get on social media, what is it that you are looking for and why?
- What is your personal definition of success? And do you have any limiting beliefs that are holding you back?
- What are your priorities for next year? And are you actively or passively working towards them?
- Write about a failure you have experienced. How did you experience it emotionally? What did you say to yourself as you were experiencing it? And what do you want to remind yourself the next time you experience failure?
- What are some good things about experiencing failure?
- Make a list of all of the things you would like to say ‘NO,’ too. How many of these things are you currently doing?
- Make a list of all of the things you would like to say ‘YES,’ too. How many of these things are you currently doing?
- What personal goal am I working towards? And how will I know when I get there?
- If I wrote a letter to my younger self, what would it say?
- What if you wrote a letter of forgiveness to yourself? What would it say?
- A defining moment in my life was…
- If you were guaranteed success, what would you be doing? And how can you begin to work towards it?
- If you were guaranteed that today was the perfect time to do something, what would you do?
- What does unconditional love look like for you?
18 Therapeutic journaling prompts for self-care
- What have you done lately for yourself, even if they are just a few small things? And if you haven’t, what are a few small things you could start doing?
- When you take the time to care for yourself, what mental health benefits do you experience?
- What does your self-care routine look like now, and are there any changes you need to make? If so, what are they?
- When you think about your morning routine, what is one thing that you would like to adjust that would help you take better care of yourself?
- Are there any adjustments you would like to make to your evening routine to take better care of yourself? And if so, what adjustments would you make?
- When I’m swamped, how can I find 10 minutes for myself? And what is something I can do during that time?
- What are some things I can do to prioritize my physical health, and how can I implement them?
- After a long day, the kindest thing that I can do for myself is…
- If you were to make a self-care box, what kinds of things would you add to it and why?
- How well have you been taking care of yourself the last couple of years? Are there things you need to keep doing, and are there things you need to change?
- Research some new ideas to implement into your self-care routine if you feel stuck.
- What acts of self-care truly make me happy, and how can I add more of these into my day?
- Am I sacrificing personal needs to make others happy, and what are those sacrifices?
- How do I advocate for myself? And what is at least 1 healthy thing that I can do to advocate for myself?
- What is my own experience around forgiveness?
- What do I need most to heal right now from a difficult situation?
- If you were to give yourself the best compliment ever, what would it be and why?
- What is your favorite memory? And how can you make more memories like this moving forward?
While therapeutic journaling has many benefits and is a positive way to help improve your emotional state. It may not be beneficial to process through traumatic experiences or significant mental illness on your own. And would be best used in conjunction with seeing a licensed mental health professional.