How Journaling Helps Us While in Therapy

Journaling helps us to find the words we need to express in writing what lies within us. When we write we are giving ourselves time, space and privacy to enable the kind of self-reflection that clarifies what we think and feel.

Journaling can be powerfully healing. For some, journaling can be the start of a habit of thoughtfulness and inner awareness. It can be a means of self analysis: in a sense, through journaling we become both patient and therapist. Journaling is a psychotherapy tool whose price is right, especially in tough economic times.

Journaling can feel like we are talking to a friend on the paper. It can give voice to sadness or protest that we don’t feel quite ready to share with others. We can journal to lessen the pressure of feelings in the here and now.  Journaling can prepare us for encounters that we must ultimately face.  We can journal about possible ways to manage problems and tense communication with others. We can also journal about past events such as complicated traumatic experiences and about our life journey.

Although writing cannot totally replace the guidance of professional help, when we are in therapy, journaling can be like an extra session that we give to ourselves. Journaling can make us more active partners in our professional therapy. It can enrich the information that we bring to the therapy session. Because it enables us to keep our focus on the issues of therapy in between sessions, it can help us make progress with fewer or less frequent sessions.

Writing, like therapy itself, is never totally complete or perfect, nor is it meant to be. We should practice going over what we have written not to correct the grammar and spelling but to make it clearer, more focused and as close as possible to the heart of what we mean. Finding ever more accurate words is like working over time with a clay model, remolding it so as to more truly express our inner vision.

Writing about trauma can help to drain off a lot of the emotional pain associated with it and to lessen its intrusion into life today. Writing about formative life experiences can help us to understand the inner and often hidden person within ourselves, giving us a chance to see clearly the difference between our past and our present and helping us to get a grip on the emotional overreactions and senseless but repetitive fears that occur in everyday life.

I hope this is of help.

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Jerrold Bonn, M.D.
Psychiatrist – Talk Therapist
Greater Philadelphia

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Kicking Cigarettes: Physical Addiction & Behavioral Dependence

Almost every smoker wants to quit, but for so many people the process of quitting seems daunting and beyond reach.

To get a handle on the problem of smoking, it can be helpful to see it as two problems:

  1. Physical addiction: enduring the painful physical withdrawal from nicotine. If this were the only problem, using the nicotine withdrawal patch alone would ease people through it.
  2. Behavioral dependence: smokers are psychologically dependent on the physical act of smoking for relief from their daily stress.

In treating people with stress and anxiety disorders over the years I have been struck again and again by how physically tense and constricted a smoker is when he or she is without access to smoking. It is as if the smoker simply cannot relax and breathe fully when only smoke-free air is available.  To relax, it seems that the smoker wants only the smoky air to calm nerves and soothe the body’s muscles. Deep breathing, done without a cigarette, is unnatural to a smoker.  The smoker may think that she will cough uncontrollably if she draws pure air. A smoker may believe that his lungs are not prepared for pure air.  Most cigarette smokers separate their lives into two zones:  a cigarette-free zone of mental tension and tight muscles, and smoking zone where they can relax and loosen mind and body.

For many smokers, it is almost as though they believe they cannot relax unless they are smoking.

Smokers need to know that the same calming kind of breath that they take when they are dragging deeply on a cigarette is no different than what non-smokers are doing when they reach out for calmness by taking a deep breath.  Before trying to kick the physical addiction, I strongly recommend that smokers first learn how to break the behavioral pattern by learning to breathe deeply without a cigarette. Once they get the knack of taking breathing breaks without cigarettes, the use of the patch can then get many over the hump rather quickly.

For some, learning to deeply inhale the scent of an aromatic oil will do enable the smoker to tolerate deep breathing without cigarette smoke.

Of course, smokers who quit shouldn’t even try an occasional smoke. In the fight against smoking addiction, one can never be “a little pregnant.”  One cigarette a day often leads quickly back to the old habit. A helpful resolution is to vow never to light a match to tobacco ever again. Millions have quit and you can be one of them. 

I hope this is of help.

Jerrold Bonn, M.D.
Psychiatrist & Talk Therapist
Greater Philadelphia

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