Black man sitting on bench writing in journal.

Journaling for Therapy and Mental Health: 10 Prompts to Get You Started

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Therapy is hard work. Opening up about your background, feelings, and experiences during therapy sessions takes a lot of courage and strength. And while attending sessions is an important part of the work you do to reach your goals, some of the hardest — and most important— work you’ll do is in between sessions.

Your therapist may give you tasks or assignments to do outside of therapy sessions to put what you’ve learned in therapy into practice. These tasks can help you build skills and continue to work toward your goals on a regular basis. Beyond completing assignments, there are other activities you can do to stay focused on your therapy goals. One of them is journaling. 

The benefits of journaling

You may look to journaling as a way to clear your head by putting your thoughts down on paper. But the benefits can go beyond just clearing your mind. Journaling can play a big role in helping you reach your therapy goals. In fact, a study on the benefits of journaling for mental health found that people with major depressive disorder who journaled their thoughts and feelings had lower depression scores. 

Journaling can help you: 

  • Practice self reflection, which continues the good work you’re doing in therapy sessions
  • Identify negative thoughts/behaviors
  • Cultivate self awareness
  • Explore and express your thoughts and feelings
  • Organize what seems like a ton of disjointed material through writing
  • Recognize patterns and keep a record of your progress

To help you get started with journaling, consider answering the following prompts. 

Journal prompts for therapy and mental health

  1. What are you noticing about yourself this week?
  2. What would you wish for if you had three wishes?
  3. Record your dreams (keep your journal by your bed so you can write them down while they're fresh).
  4. What are your worries?
  5. What are three things you’re grateful for?
  6. What are three things you’d like to do (your goals)?
  7. What are your top three strengths?
  8. What are you feeling and thinking at the very moment you're writing?
  9. How will you practice self-care this week?
    - Self-care
    can look different for everyone. Examples of self-care include getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, eating whole foods and plenty of vegetables, staying active, planning alone time when you need it, doing activities you enjoy, practicing appreciation, doing yoga or meditation, and more. 
  10. Write a goodbye letter to your inner critic. Consider answering the below prompts to help express and release your feelings:
    - If this feeling was a color it would be…
    - If this feeling was music it would sound like…

Do it your way

There’s no “right way” to journal — you can do what works for you. You can write a poem if that helps you express yourself best, or if you like to draw, you can write a few words and draw or paint to express your feelings. Journaling doesn’t just have to be done in a notebook, either (although that’s certainly an option). You can journal digitally through your notes app or other writing app on your phone, if that’s easier for you. As long as your thoughts and feelings are being recorded in some way, you can journal however you’d like. 

Make it easy 

Journaling takes consistency to be effective. Making it part of a routine can help make sure you journal on a regular basis. This may mean journaling while you sip on your morning coffee, or having it be the last thing you do right before bed. You can write one sentence each day, or write for an entire hour. Journaling doesn’t have to be done on a strict schedule or have to feel like a chore. It’s okay to skip a day — having flexibility is important. Life gets busy and you may not always get to journaling. But keeping your journal closeby can help keep it part of your routine and help you remember to write down your thoughts. 

It’s easier to journal when you find a safe space to do so, whether that’s in your bedroom, at your kitchen table, or a comfortable place outside. Your journal should be a safe space in itself, too. Avoid criticizing yourself or censoring your thoughts. Writing freely can only benefit you. 

Whether or not you share your journaling with your therapist is up to you. Journaling may be an assignment given to you by your therapist, or it may be something you do on your own as part of your therapy journey. Whether it is an assignment or not, you can talk to your therapist about sharing your journal entries if you feel it could help to discuss them. Or, you can just keep them for yourself. 

Getting started with journaling may be the most challenging part, but following these prompts and journaling your way can help you get comfortable with the experience and see its benefits. 

Last Updated:
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First Published:
July 11, 2022
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Sources:

Berman, M. Deldin, P., Askren, M., Jonides, J.,  Kross, E., & Krpan, K. (2013, June 18). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: the benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23790815/

Coelho, S. (2021, February 24). Write it out: 6 of the best guided journals. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/best-guided-journals#takeaway

Farrugia, C. (2021, May 13). NAMI-NYS The power of journaling workshop [Webinar]. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTJykubRnDQ 

Howes, R. (2011, January 26). Journaling in therapy. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-therapy/201101/journaling-in-therapy

Johnson, M. (2019, January 30). How to use journaling as a coping tool. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2019/How-to-Use-Journaling-as-a-Coping-Tool

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