Journaling for the Soul: Can a Pen and Some Paper Be the Ultimate Therapy?

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If the sound of crickets chirping provides the soundtrack to you staring into space in an attempt to start a work report, a new blog post, or a long overdue e-mail, you know that writer’s block is very real. Now imagine the prospect of spewing your innermost thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, and opinions onto the blank pages of a journal.

Daunting? Yes – but also redemptive, therapeutic, affordable, and available to all. It’s no surprise that mental-health practitioners have long relied on one writing form or the other in order to help their patients heal from conditions such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and even eating disorders. More recent studies by psychologists James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth suggest that writing about emotions can also boost immune functioning in patients suffering from the likes of HIV/AIDS, asthma, and arthritis, according to the American Psychological Association.

One UAE-based psychotherapist and counsellor by the name of Gamze Hakli Geray takes a keen interest in these crossroads between writing and therapy, particularly as an avid reader and published author herself. Ahead of Geray’s masterclass at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Goodness learns more about how writing can enhance your overall well-being and contribute to your healing process – regardless of what it is that you’re healing from. Here are five key takeaways from our conversation.


There's a Whole Host of Misconceptions

“The biggest one, in my opinion, is that many people think keeping a journal requires specific writing skills with the use of accurate words, grammar, and punctuation. When you write a journal, you express your emotions, thoughts, and opinions freely – even those you sometimes may not want to admit. It is a stream of consciousness. It is your personal narrative, and nobody needs to know or see it. Also, journaling is for both men and women, not only women.”


There Are No Rules

“Just make a move. Write a first word or sentence now without worry. If the verb or adjective is not in the right place, it’s totally acceptable. There is no right or wrong way – only your thoughts and emotions matter. You’ll progress with repetition and habits, but perfection should not be the main purpose of self-expression.

You don’t need a physical notebook either; you can be environmentally friendly while writing by using a digital platform, like your tablet. We tend to suppress the deepest and most challenging of our emotions, and sometimes find it hard to express our biggest joy or sadness. When one makes them written, he or she can start verbalizing them. The experience can be an emotional release, a catharsis.”


It Taps Into Your Inner Feelings

“Writing helps us to structure our thoughts and align our emotions and feelings with those thoughts. It is a form of expressive therapy, like art and music. Writing helps to increase self-awareness and sharp focus. We sometimes prefer to avoid this, but the technique is extremely beneficial, and the good thing is that you don’t need to be a published author to do that. You are the author of your own life.”


It Can Make You Happier

“What you can record can also last. The idea of leaving a trace can make a person happy. Writing is a personal trace that can be meaningful to the person – and who knows, someone else too? I once met someone who wanted to write a short book to leave behind his life story to close relatives in an organized way. As the great poet William Wordsworth once said, ‘Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.’ One day, someone can read those lines and be inspired by your thoughts, emotions, or life as a whole.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Nix

It's Therapeutic

“The first prerequisite of healing psychologically is the acceptance of the issue that needs to be cured or fixed. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term, structured form of psychotherapy that focuses on the person’s thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

There is no magic formula in any therapeutic activity, but self-discipline and a good personalized process are required to heal. Writing can be a form of therapy that can connect thoughts and emotions, motivating the person to take actions in order to feel better.”

Gamze Hakil Geray will be speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday, March 2nd. To purchase a ticket to her session, click here.

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