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Rana Pishva Ottawa Psychologist, Trauma therapy, PTSD, Parenting Assessment

Dr. Rana Pishva, C. Psych.

Journaling in psychotherapy

Journalling is an effective way to express emotions, clarify thoughts and perspectives, externalize and organize events. When done regularly, it can help find patterns, make connections, increase our understanding, and notice change. It can also help summarize insights, and bring closure. 

I invite my clients to journal throughout the therapy process. There are no requirements about how frequently to write, how long entries should be, or the topic. Journaling is a way to connect the therapeutic space to your life in the real world. Maybe you think of examples as soon as the session is over, or a situation bubbles up emotions you are curious about. Perhaps is a doodle you like because it reminds you of a sweet memory. Journalling allows you to record what something was like.

Here are some general tips for journaling:

  • Set a specific timeframe to write

  • Set a regular time to write

  • Find a quiet and private place

  • Write by hand, avoid typing or using your phone

  • Go with the flow and avoid editing as you go

  • Try to notice how you feel when you are writing. You can even use different colours for different emotions or topics.

  • Doodling counts as journaling, too!

  • Be flexible with the “tips”


Here are some common writing prompts to use:

  • What is happening? What is this like?

  • What do I wish would happen instead? What if it didn’t happen? What if it did?

  • What (feeling, thought, relationship) am I resisting right now?

  • What images pop into my head when this happens?

  • What does this event/relationships/situation/challenge remind me of?

  • Who needs me the most right now?

  • Who is on my team?

  • What would happen if I slowed down?

  • The thing that would make all the difference for me right now is...

  • I last felt this way is when...

  • This reminds me of...

  • My inner voice is saying..


Research on the use of journaling in trauma psychotherapy:

Harrington SJ, Morrison OP, Pascual-Leone A. Emotional processing in an expressive writing task on trauma. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 Aug;32:116-122. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.06.001. Epub 2018 Jun 6. PMID: 30057037.

The Use of Journaling in Trauma Therapy, by Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D.

Rana Pishva Ottawa Psychologist, Trauma therapy, PTSD, Parenting Assessment
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