One of your areas of expertise is journaling. What are the benefits of journal writing?
I learned about the benefits of journal writing early on. I credit journal writing for helping me through a difficult childhood because it let me voice my inner-most thoughts and emotions at times when I rarely felt heard. My journal continually served as trusted friend, always there to let me express myself confidentially and without judgment. Writing down my frustrations felt cathartic and enabled me to organize my thoughts.
As an adult and as a certified facilitator of the Journal to the Self workshop, I have seen these benefits firsthand with other journal writers, as well as many other advantages. Journal writing can help people prioritize goals, manage stress, track patterns and cycles, resolve conflicts, and capture life stories for legacy writing. I also see many benefits to journal writing in a positive group setting in which work is shared. This type of environment helps participants gain new insights and feelings of empowerment.
One of the most powerful benefits of journal writing is its potential healing effects. Dr. James W. Pennebaker, who has researched this topic for decades, found that translating traumatic experiences into words can help provide a framework for people to think about and process their trauma. This can result in better physical and mental health such as a boosted immune system and mood. In the growing field of positive psychology, journaling about gratitude, which can include a practice as simple as routinely noting the things for which you feel thankful, has been found to offer such health benefits as lower stress levels and improved sleep.
You specialize in women and seniors. What unique opportunities are there for women in midlife and beyond to take up or deepen a journaling practice?
While anyone can benefit from journal writing—self-proclaimed non-writers and writers alike—women in midlife and beyond may find that cultivating or deepening a journaling practice will help particularly with personal growth, transitions, and legacy writing.
With regard to personal growth, journaling can help these women hone intuition and tap into their authentic selves. This is because women can write their deepest emotions and thoughts without any censors or filters. Some journal-writing techniques, such as stream of consciousness writing, can help bring forth an awareness about deeply held thoughts and beliefs. This happens because after a certain point writing with this technique, which involves free-writing for a specific period of time, subconscious thoughts surface.
A journal gives women in transition permission to write about their experiences on their own terms in their own time. Journal writing also can help women in the midst of change make decisions with such simple techniques as listing fears and countering those fears with affirmative intentions. By merely keeping a journal on a regular basis and dating each entry, women in transition will benefit by tracking cycles and trends to determine the areas that need tweaking or are working.
Women in midlife and beyond also may benefit from using a journal for legacy writing, which can help nurture voice and spirit, document stories for future generations, and highlight successes and achievements to bring satisfaction and closure in later stages of life.
For those new to journaling, what are some tips on how to get started?
One of the easiest ways to get started involves using a journal, a pen, and a timer. Start off small by setting the timer for five minutes. Put the pen to paper, write without stopping, and see where your writing takes you. The key is to keep going without worrying about grammar, spelling, or any other rules. Chances are, you’ll be amazed at what you can come up with in just five brief minutes.
Some people find it helpful to use a writing prompt as a springboard. A popular Journal to the Self tool, a springboard can consist of a simple statement or question that helps launch the writer into a certain direction. Try a starter springboard such as “What’s next?” or “Right now, what I want to say is…” You might find inspiration from a line in a song lyric or book, or even a motivational quote.
Tell us more about the range of services you provide.
I am a certified instructor of Journal to the Self, a course designed to teach you to use journals to explore various aspects of yourself, your relationships, and your life. Designed and developed by Kathleen Adams, a pioneer in the use of writing as a tool for personal growth, the course offers techniques to discover the writer within, including tapping into creative techniques for problem-solving, safely releasing strong emotions, and effectively managing stress. I’ve taught journal writing workshops incorporating Journal to the Self techniques throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago and at wellness retreats. I also am available to lead private groups of three or more people.
I have worked with the older adult population as well. I led writing groups with seniors at CJE’s Adult Day Services in Evanston, Illinois, focusing on life story writing and bridging them through pen pal projects with students at Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette and New Trier High School in Winnetka.
Additionally, I am developing a practice targeting seniors in which I draft their life stories for them to pass down to future generations.
What are your favorite resources on journaling and others forms of expressive writing?
Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, by Kathleen Adams, M.A.
Expressive Writing: Foundations of Practice, Edited by Kathleen Adams
The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story, by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.
How to Write Your Own Life Story: The Classic Guide for the Nonprofessional Writer, by Lois Daniel
“What’s All This Journaling About?”
“Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary”
Connect with Michelle Wirth Fellman:
More about Michelle:
Writing has been my lifeline, helping me navigate through good and bad times. Since childhood, I’ve kept a journal to document important memories, organize my thoughts and express myself. I found much comfort in journal writing after my mother’s untimely death during my teen years.
As former journalist and someone who has enjoyed working with senior adults, I’ve learned the importance of capturing significant events and experiences in writing as a way to preserve history for future generations. I’ve also seen how writing can empower older adults by enabling them to take inventory of and share their personal achievements and experiences.
Overcoming life challenges, and motherhood, fueled my compassion toward others. After taking time off to raise my children, I wanted to return to work in a capacity that would allow me help people. I went back to school, and I earned a master’s degree in psychology at National Louis University. I also received my certification to teach Journal to the Self workshops, which helped me bridge my two passions—writing and helping people.
I grew up in Los Angeles and then earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I first came to the Chicago area in 1992 to attend graduate school at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Despite my intentions to return to the sunny winters in California, I accepted my first job at the Daily Herald newspaper in suburban Chicago and grew Midwestern roots. Two decades later, I am settled in the North Shore of Chicago with my husband, three children and dog.
Wow- What a great article!! I wish you were in Denver so I can take your class. Thanks for the advice on where to start with journal writing.
I took a class with Michelle myself and can attest she’s great. That’s why I had to interview her. Thanks for reading and commenting!