Journal after Brain Injury – Tips and topics for journaling

Journal your Life after TBI by Barbara Stahura

December 24, 2012

Journal after Brain Injury – Tips and topics for journaling

You can journal on paper or type on a computer. It's the writing that's important.

You can journal on paper or type on a computer. It’s the writing that’s important.

Life after a brain injury, either as a survivor or a family caregiver, is difficult enough, and you don’t need to struggle with finding ways to express yourself in your journal. Of course, you can always simply begin writing in a free-form style, but when you need a way to focus or to get  started, having various techniques at your command will help. In addition, freewriting is not always the best way to journal about  traumatic subjects. Techniques offer structure and containment, making writing about tough topics more manageable. Last time, we covered some basic journaling techniques. Here are a few more that can make your journaling practice richer and more satisfying.

Unsent Letter

A popular journaling technique is the Unsent Letter. Simply, it is a letter you never intend to send. You can use this technique for “catharsis, completion, and clarity,” according to Kathleen Adams in her book, Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth. An Unsent Letter is a perfect way to let off steam, rant, or give voice to your anger (which we all need to do from time to time) without hurting or offending anyone. And, since the benefit comes in the writing and not the keeping of what we journal, you can always destroy the letter after you’ve let out all your feelings on the page.

But an Unsent Letter need not be angry. You can use it to find closure with someone no longer in your life, perhaps someone who has died or moved away. Or you may be in conflict with someone, and by writing an Unsent Letter, you may discover something important that will help you ease the conflict. You can also write an Unsent Letter to your brain, brain injury, or someone who has been involved in your care.


One technique I particularly like is Perspectives. As Adams says, this is “a journal technique that allows you to explore the possibilities of roads not taken in your life.” You can write about the past or the future and try on another perspective. This technique works well when you are undecided about which path to take. In this case, write about both choices—say, accepting a new job offer vs. staying in your current position—and how you imagine you would feel from both points of view. Often, the right decision reveals itself in the way you experience the two perspectives as you write.

With Perspectives, you can also create a window into your future and begin to imagine the possibilities. Date your entry with a future date and write as if it is happening in the present. After the date has passed, review your entry. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much that you imagined has come true.

Perspectives also allow us to understand others by writing from their point of view. “A journal entry written as if you were someone else provides the opportunity to step into another person’s skin long enough to sense what might be going on for him or her,” writes Adams. “The compassion afforded by this discovery makes it an invaluable tool for healing yourself and your relationships.”

Captured Moment

Writing a Captured Moment “allows you to celebrate and savor, preserving in prose the glory and anguish, the serenity and sorrow, the pleasure and pain of your life,” according to Adams. A Captured Moment is like a snapshot, using words instead of a camera that preserves a moment in time. With this technique, you can use all your senses to convey the deep feelings and sensations of the moment. It can take you back in time to a place of awareness—for instance, the moment you saw a man in a café and knew you would marry him, or the moment your mother died surrounded by her family, or a significant moment in your life after your injury. It can also create an awareness that leads you to make changes or discover something important about yourself.


Finally, Dialogue is one more useful journaling technique. It’s a conversation between two partners—you and someone or something else, where you write both parts. Your dialogue partner can be a person living or dead, real or imagined. It can be a part of yourself, such as your caregiver self, your recovering self, your frightened self. It can be an illness or medical condition. After a brain injury, for instance, you can dialogue with your brain or brain injury, or after a serious medical diagnosis such as cancer, you can dialogue with it. You can dialogue with money or your work or a possession. You can dialogue with God or a higher power, or with characters from your dreams.

On the page, your Dialogue will look like this:
Me: I wonder why you came to live with me. What do you think?

Brain Injury: It’s hard to say, but instead of looking backward, shouldn’t we be planning our future?


It’s helpful to begin a Dialogue by asking a question. That will get the conversation started. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time and privacy. Begin with an entrance meditation, or a few minutes of quiet time, with closed eyes and easy breathing, to connect with your dialogue partner before writing. You may feel uncomfortable at first, since you’re making up the dialogue, but that’s fine. Keep writing, and it becomes easier.

Next time: Creating your own journaling exercises

Recommended Reading

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story

By Barbara Stahura, C.J.F. and Susan B. Schuster, M.A., CCC-SLP

This workbook guides survivors of brain injury and blast injury through the powerful healing experience of telling their own stories with simple journaling techniques. By writing short journal entries, survivors explore the challenges, losses, changes, emotions, adjustments, stresses, and milestones as they rebuild their lives. Journaling after brain injury helps written and verbal communication skills and provides cognitive retraining for following instruction. It helps promote self awareness as well as recognition of strengths and difficulties after brain injury. It is a tool for planning for the future and discussions with family members. Journaling can be done individually, in a group or with assistance from caregivers or family.


Journaling After Brain Injury

By Barbara Stahura

Journaling after brain injury can help survivors cope with the changes and challenges in their lives. This tip card on journaling after brain injury helps survivors and families understand what journaling is, learn its benefits and cautions, and use guidelines and tips for writing journal entries.




Additional articles by Barbara Stahura  

A Sampler of Journaling Techniques after Brain Injury

The Journal Ladder ad a Few Cautions

Read more about Barbara Stahura when you visit her website  and blog on journaling.

More reading on journaling

Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth, by Kathleen Adams, M.A. Grand Central Publishing, 1990.

The Way of the Journal, by Kathleen Adams, LPC, Sidran Institute Press, 1998.

2 responses to “Journal after Brain Injury – Tips and topics for journaling”

  1. faye says:

    It is now 23 years later having my journling, poems and poise self publish

  2. Marilyn Lash says:

    I love these suggestions – these are great tips for expressing those difficult thoughts and emotions that most of us have, yet too often they remain buried or gradually contribute to depression or unresolved grief. Another technique I have heard is writing a letter to your 80 year old self as a way of recreating a new future and reprioritizing relationships.

    Thanks for all you do and your contribution to helping us understand the power of journaling.

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