The importance of journaling for mental health

Journaling is a practice encouraged by therapists trained in different therapeutic modalities. I have practised it myself for over a decade and I found it fundamental for my own development as a person and as a therapist. I frequently suggest journaling to my clients and they often recognise this practice has benefited them in many ways.


In this article, I explore four ways in which journaling can be beneficial for mental health and self-development.

Journaling is a self-care practice

Firstly, journaling is a way of taking care of yourself by giving priority to your inner world over the demands from the external world (be it your job or family demands, etc). Taking the time to sit down and write about your experience means willfully creating a space to explore what is happening in your inner world. It means choosing to pay attention to yourself, at least for half an hour a week or a day.

With time, this will make you more aware of how you feel about what is going on in your life and less likely to be influenced by others and by the external environment (it could be the news, social media, opinions of friends and family) and this way more centred and free in your choices. I would say that in many respects, journaling is a form of meditation, and provides very similar benefits in the long run. 

Journaling helps in understanding yourself

Developing a practice of paying attention to your inner world means starting a journey of self-knowledge that will take you a step forward each day. The events of your life, be them big or small, will provide the opportunities to investigate yourself, to explore who you are, how you feel, and what you value. Journaling is a precious tool for exploring and understanding yourself.

I believe a great advantage of journaling compared to other forms of self-exploration is that writing forces us to be clear. If thinking about our experience can often result in confused and abstract ideas, writing about it compels us to clarify the real motives of our actions. Journaling can help us recognise the feelings that played out in our lives and to reflect on how we acted in response to them.

This way we learn a great deal about ourselves, by writing we are forced to take a step back from our experience. This helps us clarify how we feel with regards to the events we are living, understand why we feel that way, and formulate clearer intentions for the future. In other words, through journaling, we gain greater self-awareness and therefore freedom to choose behaviours and actions that may be different from what we are used to. 

Journaling helps in processing difficult feelings

I find that journaling helps with processing difficult feelings. On many occasions, I found myself unable to stop ruminating thoughts in my mind with growing anxiety until I finally sat down and described my experience in writing. Only then could I find peace and move on. Similar episodes have been reported to me by clients. It is as if writing provided closure for certain mind processes that involve thoughts and feelings. As anxiety is often a symptom of blocked energy originating from feelings such as fear or anger, writing allows to act symbolically on these feelings, and this way discharges the anxiety.

Journaling creates a coherent inner narrative

Finally, I find that journaling greatly helps with something else, which may seem subtle, but it is extremely important for our well-being. It helps weave together lived experiences in a coherent narrative. This is important because we are storytelling creatures. Our identity is based on the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves day after day, which can be called inner narrative.

From this perspective, processing a lived experience (it can be a seemingly small life event such as a discussion with a friend, or a traumatic event of any kind, but also a pleasant and joyful event) means including this event in our inner narrative in a way that it moulds with it. Every integrated experience becomes part of our inner narrative like a musical note in a melody.

When lived experiences are not integrated, they remain out of the inner narrative, like a dissonant sound. This can easily happen when we do not take the time to stop and reflect on our experience, which is exactly what we do when journaling.

When there are a lot of dissonant sounds, our melody becomes untuned. It can be said that we lose centredness and our personality becomes more and more unbalanced. In other words, we struggle to have a sense of who we are and where we are going. Writing about our lived experiences helps integrate them into our inner narrative, and at the same time allows them to contribute to its development.

These are just four ways in which I found journaling can be beneficial for mental health and self-development based on what I noticed in my personal experience with this practice and working with clients in therapy. Certainly, many others could be found in the personal experience of anyone acquainted with this intimate practice of self-exploration. 

I would sum up my reflections on the importance of journaling by saying that it is a form of self-therapy. As such, I find it is most beneficial when performed in conjunction with professional therapy. Indeed, the therapist has the skills to guide the client in the endeavour of self-exploration. And the work initiated and shaped during the weekly therapy session can be progressed and deepened by the client working on their own through journaling

Insights that had come up during the weekly therapy session can be further explored in light of the lived daily experiences through journaling. Vice versa, new insights may come up when journaling, which can be subsequently explored with the support of a professional in the therapy room. 

If you’d like to find out more about how counselling and journaling can help you, feel free to reach out to me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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