In our last post, we spoke with Cummins therapist Mindy Frazee about the mental health benefits of keeping a journal. Studies have shown that journaling can have a wide range of physical and mental heath effects, from lowered heart rate to less distress and negative emotions. Although we covered a lot of the basics last time, there’s still so much more that can be said about journaling!
“Journaling helps us think in different ways,” Mindy says. “It aids in stress reduction, emotion regulation, increased awareness, but it also impacts and touches different parts of our brains, which is really fascinating.”
To help our readers supplement their journaling routine, we asked Mindy about her favorite ways to use journaling in a therapy setting. Here are a few exercises and prompts you can try for yourself!
Therapist Mindy Frazee on Her Favorite Journaling Exercises
“Some people that come into my office have very low self-evaluation and self-esteem, for a variety of reasons. One of the things I’ll do is tell them, ‘Write down everything you like about yourself.’
That’s really uncomfortable for people. Many of us don’t like to talk about ourselves. We’re in the Midwest; it’s not what we do. But on top of that, we may have been told negative things about ourselves. This exercise challenges those ideas. Then, if we read what we wrote out loud, it helps us accept those good things about ourselves. We think, ‘I wrote it about myself, I read it out loud, and then this person sitting across from me who’s completely unbiased accepts this about me. I guess I can accept that about me, too.’ “
Reframing Traumatic Experiences
“Usually in trauma work, I encourage the person to read their own words out loud in our sessions. And when they’re reading what they’ve written about a traumatic experience, I’ll pause them and ask, ‘What do you think about that experience right now? What is it like now, today, in this moment, to be saying these things?’
What was present then is often what trauma survivors fixate on. ‘I was so angry, I was so scared, I was these things.’ But as a therapist, I encourage them to think about what’s happening today, in this moment. This helps them be more present and stop living in the past, which is really pivotal and impactful in trauma work. They realize it’s OK to feel the way they did and that they’re not in that place anymore.”
Experimenting with Format
“Some people just don’t want to sit down and write, to be honest. Not everybody is going to say, ‘Dear diary, today…’ So, I try to meet those people where they’re comfortable. They can journal with logs or bullet points. They can write poetry and prose. It’s whatever makes sense for that person in their mind.
Another idea that’s really fascinating is photography as a way of journaling. Most people have some type of a phone, so I might ask them to capture pictures, but in a very focused way—with a specific quest, kind of. I’ll say, ‘Define this concept using photos throughout your day, and then bring them in and we’ll discuss them.’ “
We’d like to thank Mindy Frazee for sharing these exercises, which can be used in both clinical and personal settings. But you needn’t stop here! There are countless ways to express yourself through journaling—the only wrong way is a way that doesn’t feel right to you!
What are your favorite ways to journal?
If you’d like to read more about mental health and wellness strategies, check out some of our other posts below!