I discovered the therapeutic benefits of drawing and writing in a journal while struggling with an illness that defied the doctors and their meds. At the time, I was also recovering from a brief but highly toxic relationship with a very disturbed individual. Things had ended as abruptly as they began and I was in shock.
The trauma left me utterly confused and so exhausted that I was forced to go to bed. Physicians at the HMO I belonged to were unable to correctly diagnose my condition and gave me medications that either did no good or made matters worse. I sensed that my condition was serious, but no one could diagnose it accurately. I gave up on the doctors and their meds and retreated to my bed.
Feeling afraid for my life and physically drained, I only had enough energy to read, draw and write. As a professional artist, I had lots of sketchbooks lying around and they morphed into journals full of child-like scribbles, surrealistic drawings and reflective writing.
I started drawing out my feelings and the dreams I was having at night. What started as something to fill the time as I lay sick in bed, turned out to save my life and lead to a new career as an art therapist. Thanks to my journal, I found healing and wisdom within.
A decade later, psychologists like James Pennebaker started doing research on writing as therapy. Writing about trauma or a crisis has been shown to increase immune system function and decrease doctor visits. The therapeutic value of art has been researched for decades by clinical art therapists and been found effective for dealing with emotional, physical and relationship challenges.
In addition to using spontaneous art therapy techniques like scribbling, drawing and even magazine photo collage, as well as therapeutic writng, I have also discovered the power of writing and drawing with the nondominant hand.
This “other hand” (the one you don’t normally write or draw with) gives voice to emotions, insights and creativity that are best accessed through the right brain (which the “non-writing” hand taps into directly).
Getting started with Creative Journaling
Supplies: A blank book with unlined paper (preferably 8 ½ X 11 in.). Colored pens for writing and colored markers and crayons for drawng. Sets of 12 colors or more.
Time: Even though the words diary and journal are rooted in words for “daily,” one doesn’t have to make entries each day. Creative Journaling can be done daily, weekly or monthly. A regular practice of journlaing brings more benefits: stress reduction, relaxation, self-reflection and creative insights.
Privacy: The confidential nature of a diary or journal invites honesty and free expression. It’s a place to scribble out what’s going on inside. Releasing one’s innermost thoughts, emotions and creative ideas on paper is a liberating experience if there is no fear of criticism or ridicule. It is great therapy and, in fact, many counselors recommend it.
Creative Journal Prompts
1. When strong emotions come up, try scribbling them out with your nondominant hand. If your Art Critic starts babbling away in your brain, try telling it to shut up. You are not making Art here. You are releasing feelings.
2. Ask yourself: How do I feel right now? With your nondomiant hand, draw an image of how you feel. Then let the image “speak” by writing with your nondominant hand in the first person.
3. Ask yourself: “What is the biggest challenge in my life?” With your nondominant hand, draw an image of this challenge. Then write your observations using your dominant hand. After drawing and writing about the challenge, create another image of some possible solutions.
4. Ask yourself: Where am I in my life right now?” Express this in a photo collage in your journal.
5. Draw a picture with either hand or make a photo collage titled “How I want my life to be.” Then write about your observations using your dominant hand.
Creative Journal Ground Rules
1. Creative Journals are confidential, private and kept in a safe place.
2. Creative Journals are not evaluated or criticized by anyone else; this ensures honesty with yourself and safety from external judgement.
3. Creative Journaling is done in a quite place with no distraction. Sometimes quiet music helps.
4. Keep your journal in a private place. This is confidential. If you choose to share excerpts, do so selectively. Never share with anyone who is critical, controlling or dismissive of your journal process. A trusted friend, therapist, counselor or spiritual adviser might be someone to share with, IF you feel you are emotionally safe with the person.
5. No criticism or ridicule is permitted if anyone does share a journal entry.
6. Each family member’s Creative Journal is his or her private property to do with whatever he/she wishes.
Note: If the ground rules ensuring safety and confidentiality cannot be followed for any reason, it is best not to introduce journaling in a family setting.