How to Journal: Expressive Journaling

journal and penExpressive Journaling is the brainchild of Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas, Austin. This differs from other types of journaling because it focuses on Emotions and Feelings rather than detailing events, thoughts, or reactions to circumstances.

Pennebaker’s writing prescription is simple:

Write your deepest feelings about an emotional event in your life for 15-20 minutes a day for four consecutive days.


There are numerous benefits to this kind of journaling:

  • a sense of closure
  • valuable insight
  • lower blood pressure
  • strengthened immune system
  • better performance (in school – in workplace – at home)
  • improved relationships

And the list goes on and on.

writing - healingWhile a simple Google search will yield numerous articles on Pennebaker’s research, I found Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing, equally informative but written in layman’s terms – a language I best comprehend.

DeSalvo shared: For years my feelings remained unexamined, unexpressed, unexplored, and so the quality of my life and my health was seriously compromised.

In order to achieve the full health benefits writing has to offer, however, we must be willing to dig deep. DeSalvo encourages us to write about something that either puzzles us, confounds us, pains or troubles us.

While we may feel the need to revisit the events as a starting point, remember… it is the exploration of emotions and feelings that help restore us to health and wholeness.

Typically these emotions are of a negative nature, which is fine. But don’t linger there too long. It is important to give voice to these feelings and fully explore them, but don’t regurgitate. Negativity has a way of leading us into a downward spiral.

Instead, try to discover some positive feelings associated with the event as well. A balanced narrative is what gives a sense of hope, which is essential to the healing process.

DeSalvo offers several writing prompts, two of which I found particularly helpful:

  1. Write the answer to: This is what I remember…. then follow up with the answer to: Is this what really happened?
  2. Write the answer to: This is how I felt then…. then follow up with the answer to: This is how I feel now.

I am someone who spends a lot of time in her head. I constantly mull and think and analyze. DeSalvo showed me the importance of linking these thoughts with personal feelings. The purpose is not to fight the emotions or push them away, but rather accurately represent them through words.

I will warn you, this is not easy journaling, and the short-term feeling may be sadness or fatigue. I urge you, however to push through. It is well worth the struggle and the long-term benefits are life-changing.

It is best to begin this kind of journaling by following Dr. Pennebaker’s suggestion: don’t write more than twenty minutes at a time. If necessary (or desired), reward yourself at the end of the session (chocolate works wonders).

Perhaps you  find twenty minutes too difficult. No worries… try ten. This is not about journaling the “right” way but about taking a step towards wholeness. Be willing to give yourself grace as you give yourself permission to reconnect and accept your true identity.



6 thoughts on “How to Journal: Expressive Journaling

  1. I love the various journaling methods you have been bringing forth. I thought the five-year journal with one sentence for each day, each year, was particularly intriguing, however I’d never be able to limit myself to a sentence, and probably not even a paragraph. (I’m a novelist; it’s soooo hard to write short! 😉 ) But to see five years, day-by-day on a page would be enlightening.

    As to expressive journaling, this would be, for me, the most difficult of the different techniques you’ve written about. Maybe it’s what I need most? I don’t know. There again, I’m used to showing characters emotions through their actions in my novels. They don’t sit around emoting, and neither do I.


    • Love that last line… they don’t sit around emoting and neither do I. Perhaps I spend too much time emoting when I need to start taking action (?)

      SO good to see you again, my friend. I continue to pray for you and your family – and especially that dear sweet granddaughter!


  2. Re: Chocolate as the reward. Last night’s news carried a segment about the tremendous health benefits to chocolate. Hurray! You’ve given me another excuse to, err, reason to eat chocolate. I don’t know how to post a smiley face here, but I would if I could.


  3. Pingback: How to Journal: Introduction | Revising Life after 50

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