A Sampler of Journaling Techniques After Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Barbara Stahura

October 15, 2012

A Sampler of Journaling Techniques After Brain Injury

Barbara Stahura teaches journaling workshops.

Barbara Stahura teaches journaling workshops.

While journaling after your own brain injury or when you become a caregiver for a loved one with such an injury, you can always begin by simply putting your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and starting to write. Yet facing the blank page or screen can be daunting: What do I write about? What do I say? How do I start? How and when do I stop? Furthermore, this kind of  free writing can be less than helpful for someone writing about a traumatic experience that is still fresh or which has not yet been adequately processed emotionally.

It can become less daunting and more comforting if you know a few basic techniques that offer structure, pacing, and containment, which were discussed last time in “The Journal Ladder and A Few Cautions.”

A most basic journal entry is simply to write one sentence about a topic such as “Today I feel…” or “Right now I could …” or “When I…”  If even that feels like too much—and it can some days—just jot down three words that describe how you feel at that moment.

Another easy technique is the 5-Minute Sprint. Set a timer for five minutes and stop writing when time is up. Having the structure of only five minutes creates a sense of containment, so you’re less likely to write aimlessly or to dive off any emotional cliffs. It’s often surprising how much information can pour out in such a short time, especially when you write quickly and keep your pen moving. A 5-Minute Sprint can provide clarity, offer solutions and possibilities, and reveal ideas. And for someone with a brain injury as well as busy family caregivers, five minutes can feel like a manageable time.

If it’s difficult for you to know what to write about, even when you feel you need to write, you can create a list of “topics du jour,” as Kathleen Adams explains in Journal to the Self. You create a list of 31 topics and then use them as springboards into a journal entry. Choose the one that matches the date on which you are writing. For instance, if the topic for the 15th is “taking care of myself” (important for family caregivers), you’ll write about that on the 15th of each month. Additionally, this creates a monthly record of your self-care, or whatever else you’re writing about. Other topics can include health, spiritual life, finances, relationships, activities, improvements, changes, blessings, dreams, frustrations, or whatever areas of your life you would like to explore.

Journal lists are another great journaling technique. And if you create lists of 100, you can clarify your thoughts, identify patterns or problems, brainstorm solutions, and gather a lot of information quickly, as Adams explains in Journal to the Self. Decide on a topic for your list, such as 100 Blessings, 100 Frustrations and Stresses, 100 Things I Want to Do, 100 Fears, or 100 Things That Will Help My Recovery. While 100 seems like a huge number of things to list, it’s not so bad when you know that you can repeat items, they don’t have to make sense, you can write just a word or a phrase per item, and the idea is just to get them down. Write the numbers 1 to 100 in your journal and then write items quickly, without judging whatever comes to mind, and in one sitting of 20 to 30 minutes, you can have 100 items.

Then, when you have completed your list, you can analyze it for themes. It’s likely that the 100 items can be grouped into a handful of themes, and when you know what they are, you are better able to take action. Say your list is “100 Fears After My Husband’s Brain Injury.” The themes could be finances, our relationship, our children, his work/my work, medical/therapy issues, taking care of myself, taking care of my husband. Grouping the big list of 100 into these seven umbrella topics can make them feel more manageable and help you create a plan of action.

These topics, and more, are covered in KathleenAdams’ Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth and The Way of the Journal. Some of them are used in my After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story.

Next time: More Journaling Techniques

Recommended Reading 

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story

By Barbara Stahura and Susan B. Schuster, MA, CCC-SLP. Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, 2009.

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

Tip Card by Barbara Stahura. Lash & Associates Publishing/Training, 2011.

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.




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.

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