Thearapeutic journaling: Questions, tips and prompts

If you're currently in therapy or considering it, journaling can be an invaluable tool to help you record, process, and reflect on your experiences both within and between therapy sessions.


Therapeutic journaling and free writing can also assist in reducing stress and depression, gaining a deeper understanding of oneself, and exploring complex emotions. As a therapist, I often recommend journaling to my clients and provide prompts based on various themes such as relationships or family. However, it's important to note that while some individuals may resonate with the idea of putting pen to paper, others may not, and that's perfectly OK. Just like therapy itself, it's about finding what works best for you as an individual.

Here are some common questions asked by my therapy clients who are considering journaling.

How can journaling help me?

The mental health benefits of journaling have been widely recognised and supported by extensive scientific research. Studies have shown that journaling can help with anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. Journaling is a tool that connects your thoughts, feelings, and actions (Hubbs & Brand, 2005).

Journaling has been linked to fewer stress-related doctor visits, improved immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure, enhanced mood and psychological well-being, a decrease in depressive symptoms, and fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms. Additionally, journaling has shown positive effects on academic performance, working memory, and sporting abilities (Honos-Webb, Sunwolf, Hart & Scalise, 2006).

How does it work?

By confronting and processing emotions that we may have otherwise denied or inhibited, journaling allows us to develop a coherent narrative that reorganises and structures difficult memories, aiding our cognitive processing. Through repetitive exposure to negative emotional responses, journaling can even help eliminate these negative feelings, fostering healing and personal growth (Honos-Webb, Sunwolf, Hart & Scalise, 2006).

What’s the difference between journaling and diary writing?

Diary writing is often a daily record of external events that impact our lives – whilst some of these may affect our emotions or thoughts, therapeutic journalling is more based on our internal thoughts, feelings and sensations. Whilst some really enjoy diary writing, many find the challenge of committing to paper every day daunting, and it’s easy to let external activity take precedence over our internal feelings and emotions.

What is gratitude journaling?

Gratitude journaling is the practice of finding and recording aspects of the day that you are grateful for. It’s up to you how many you choose to look for, but three is a good place to start - and this can build up. Gratitude journaling can either be done instead of regular journaling or alongside it. This practice encourages, through repetition, your brain to be grateful and look for the positives. Try and be specific when recording your gratitude - so rather than say, "I'm grateful for my mum", you could write, "I was really grateful when my mum called to ask about my day."

What is free writing? 

Free writing is a journalling technique where the writer sits down and writes whatever comes to mind in a set time.

How long should I spend free writing?

Setting a time for free writing is an individual choice. Some people find that writing for 10-15 minutes, whilst others may benefit more from writing for 30 minutes. Try experimenting with times and find what feels most comfortable and beneficial for you – you want to find an amount of time that enables you to write freely without constraint. Be sure to set realistic time goals, as if you are trying to build journalling into an already busy day, setting too much time aside may cause your new habit to break quickly.

What are some specific prompts that can be used for therapeutic journaling and free writing?  

A vast collection of prompts can be found online in a quick Google search. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
  • What does 'family' mean to you?
  • What are your biggest fears?
  • What type of person did you want to become when you were a child? How are you similar and different to that person?
  • What do you value most in your friends?

General advice for journaling

Here are some general tips for journaling that may be useful.

  • Find a private place where you feel comfortable and free from outside distractions.
  • Set aside a specific time and place for your writing.
  • Choose your own prompt and allow yourself to write without judgment.
  • Find your own structure and format for your journaling—whether it's pen and paper or using a computer—choose what feels most comfortable to you.
  • Remember that your journaling should be private and for your eyes only – this helps you feel uninhibited and deepens the process, but of course, you can choose to share it with someone.

Whether you choose to engage in therapeutic journaling, free writing or gratitude journaling, Journaling can be a transformative and empowering tool that can greatly support therapy and personal growth.


Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

Honos-Webb, L., Sunwolf, Hart, S., & Scalise, J. (2006). How to help after national catastrophes: Findings following 9/11. The Humanistic Psychologist, 34(1), 75–97. doi:10.1207/s15473333thp3401

Hubbs, D., & Brand, C. (2005). The paper mirror: Understanding reflective journaling. Journal of Experiential Education, 28(1), 60–71.

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

Share this article with a friend
Biggleswade, Central Bedfordshire, SG18 8GU
Written by Claire Coker, MA, MBACP Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Biggleswade, Central Bedfordshire, SG18 8GU

Claire Coker is an integrative counsellor, proud to be woke and anti ‘should’. She loves working with people who struggle with low self-confidence and/or loud inner critics. She’s all for saying no, respectful boundaries, breaking down negative self-beliefs and the magic of our unknown potential.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Depression

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals