Benefits of Journaling for Survivors of Brain Injury and Family Caregivers

Brain Injury Blog by Barbara Stahura

July 26, 2012

Benefits of Journaling for Survivors of Brain Injury and Family Caregivers

Track progress toward improvement in a notebook.

Track progress toward improvement in a notebook.

After the trauma of brain injury, survivors and family caregivers can all benefit from spending a few minutes a day or several times a week writing in a private journal. Journaling has become a popular activity in recent years—just look at the many shelves of blank journals in any bookstore. And for good reason: it’s a proven therapeutic method of restoring well-being, relieving stress, and even enhancing physical health. It’s also a way to expand creativity, encourage self-expression, and enable self-exploration.

Many therapists now use journaling with their clients and recommend it for improving mental health. Yet even without a therapist, people can journal alone or in facilitated groups. And unlike a visit to a therapist, journaling costs only the price of the journal and a pen—and you don’t need an appointment!

What can journaling do for you?

In the mid-1980s, research psychologist James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., became curious about the effects of self-disclosure on people’s physical and mental health. In a series of groundbreaking studies, he found that students who wrote about their deep feelings regarding a traumatic experience had half the doctor visits for illness as the control group did over the next several months. And this happened after writing for only 20 minutes a day for four days in a row—a total of 80 minutes! He dubbed this technique “expressive writing.”

Pennebaker then conducted many other studies over the years, as did other researchers. To date, more than 200 have been completed with many diverse groups of people. These studies have showed that expressive writing can strengthen immune function, lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce asthma and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and lessen sleep disturbance in people with cancer. Other benefits include less anxiety, less rumination, fewer symptoms of depression, better work efficiency, deeper connections with others, and even better chances of getting hired. Interestingly, a few studies have demonstrated that writing about positive subjects rather than painful ones produces the same effects.

While as far as I can discover, no such expressive writing studies have been conducted specifically with people with brain injury, they and their family caregivers can potentially reap the same benefits—and others.

Other benefits of journaling

Having facilitated journaling groups for people with brain injury since 2007, I can attest that this practice can also:

  • Enhance written and verbal communication skills
  • Stimulate cognitive and executive skills (following direction, organizing, planning, sequencing, attention, processing, etc.)
  • Promote post-injury self-awareness (deficits and strengths)
  • Assist in planning for the post-injury future
  • Promote dialogue and understanding with family members and others
  • Encourage self-expression after a trauma and major life disruption
  • Prepare for community re-entry
  • Offer community and support when done in a facilitated group.

For family caregivers, journaling is an easy, inexpensive, yet powerful method of self-care. In the pages of their journals, family caregivers can find a safe sanctuary where they can pour out their hearts, find some respite and clarity, and spend some much needed private time with themselves.

For many more benefits, see “100 Benefits of Journaling.”

Next time:

How to journal (even if you can’t write by hand)

Recommended Reading

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, by Barbara Stahura and Susan B. Schuster, MA, CCC-SLP. Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, 2009.  

Journaling After Brain Injury,” tip card by Barbara Stahura. Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, 2011.

Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval, by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. New Harbinger Publications, 2004.

Opening Up: The Healing Power Of Expressing Emotions, by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. Guildford Press, 1997

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