Journalling For Trauma Recovery


Journalling is highly beneficial for many mental health conditions, but especially for those dealing with past trauma. Writing about specific symptoms, thoughts, and feelings helps people make connections and understand them more and provides a space to explore difficult things that can be challenging to talk about.

The Science of Journalling

There has been a lot of research into how writing things down can have major benefits. Studies have found that writing negative emotions in a journal can boost the immune system and improve physical healing. Focusing on gratitude when journalling can also help those with a history of trauma focus on the positives as they heal.[1]

Journalling has also been proven to reduce anxiety and mental distress. One study found that those who journalled for fifteen minutes three days per week had fewer depressive and anxious symptoms after just one month.[2]

Writing and journalling can also help encourage people to reach out for help and improve emotional regulation. Expressive writing can help to decrease symptoms of depression, and focusing on deeper thoughts and feelings can have more benefits than recording daily experiences in a diary.

Physical health can also be improved by journalling. A New Zealand study found that people who wrote about their feelings and any upset after undergoing a biopsy healed faster.

However, it has also been noted that writing about negative emotions can potentially increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Incorporating gratitude into journalling can significantly reduce symptoms of depression, which helps to strengthen positive recall. By paying more attention to good things rather than challenges or barriers, people can feel more positive and more resilient to adversity.

Trauma and Journalling

Keeping a journal has proven benefits for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Writing in a journal, or keeping a digital journal, can help people understand their emotions and experiences and provides a space to explore difficult topics.

Research from 2015 suggests that expressive writing about traumatic events can help people manage symptoms of PTSD.[3] Labelling emotions and acknowledging the traumatic event can help people make sense of their trauma, organise their thoughts and experiences, and improve memory. Detailing upsetting events and writing about the emotions or physical reactions that surfaced also helps people pinpoint their triggers and identify better ways to manage them.

Writing about traumatic experiences can also be extremely cathartic. Some people may actively avoid talking about their experiences to avoid painful emotions, but this can have more negative consequences. Even if they are not ready to open up to others, a journal can help them process events and gain a new perspective.

However, journalling about a traumatic experience or focusing on deep thoughts and feelings can be triggering. Journalling immediately after a traumatic event may also worsen symptoms. In some cases, it may be more beneficial to focus on things outside of a traumatic experience, such as gratitude or future planning, and come back to difficult topics with help from a mental health professional.

How To Start Journalling

If you want to start a journal, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Some people prefer pen and paper, and some prefer a digital document or app to keep all their entries in order. Both physical and digital journals have the same benefits, so choosing a suitable medium is the first step.

When you begin journaling start small; set aside a few minutes every day. Journalling sessions can be as long as half an hour, but even five minutes can help build a regular practice. Find a quiet space to start and try to limit distractions. Perfect silence is not necessary, but a calm environment can help when you start a journal or write about a difficult topic. It can also be helpful to take some time to sit and reflect on a topic or question before writing.

Journal entries do not need a particular structure. Sometimes, just writing down whatever comes to mind, such as recurring negative thoughts, can be incredibly beneficial. However, for those who struggle with free writing, prompts can help get you started. These can include questions such as:

  • What are three things you are grateful for today, and why?
  • What challenges have you faced in the last week, and how did you handle them?
  • Describe a significant memory or event in your life, and consider how it has affected you.
  • List three things that you would like others to know about you.
  • What difficult emotions do you encounter frequently?

Finding time to journal every day can help to embed it as a habit and coping strategy when managing challenging emotions. However, people do not have to journal daily to see the benefits. Writing for three or four days a week can still help people better regulate their emotions and process traumatic events.

Journalling is just one aspect of healing from trauma and is not a cure-all. It should be combined with other strategies to get the most benefits, such as:

  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Professional help and therapy

Keeping a journal is an accessible way for people to express their thoughts and emotions. It is easily incorporated into daily life and can take as little as a few minutes a day. When combined with other modalities, such as somatic experiencing, it can help trauma survivors process their thoughts and feelings in a structured, healthy way.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).


[1] Iodice JA, Malouff JM, Schutte NS (2021) The Association between Gratitude and Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Depress Anxiety 4:024.

[2] Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online Positive Affect journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018 Dec 10;5(4):e11290. doi: 10.2196/11290. PMID: 30530460; PMCID: PMC6305886.

[3] Sloan DM, Sawyer AT, Lowmaster SE, Wernick J, Marx BP. Efficacy of Narrative Writing as an Intervention for PTSD: Does the Evidence Support Its Use? J Contemp Psychother. 2015 Dec;45(4):215-225. doi: 10.1007/s10879-014-9292-x. Epub 2015 May 14. PMID: 26640295; PMCID: PMC4669193.