In psychedelic therapy, journaling enables people to unpack and make sense of the often dense psychological and emotional material that arises during psychedelic experiences.
Let’s take a look at the science behind journaling, how it works, why it’s important, and how it’s used in psychedelic therapy.
The science behind journaling
Journaling is an ancient tradition. It can be traced all the way back to 10th century Japan. The modern diary, however, dates back to 15th century Italy. Back then, diaries were used for accounting. But with time, the focus shifted from recording public life to reflecting on private matters.
Over time, journaling became a tool used by some of humankind’s greatest thinkers to reflect on the world and deepen their insights. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, filled 5,000 pages of journals with ideas and observations. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Charles Darwin and Maya Angelou (among countess others) famously kept journals as well.
But why has this practice of journaling survived among great thinkers and leaders for centuries? Simply put, journaling helps you prioritize and clarify thinking. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
How and why journaling works
Studies have shown that writing can help people better cope with stressful events, relieve anxiety, and even boost immune cell activity. But what exactly happens in our brains when we write?
Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, explains, “While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
Because of that, the practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retention, and retrieval of information. It promotes the brain’s attentive focus and gives the brain time for reflection.
But that’s not all. The benefits of journaling are plentiful.
The benefits of journaling
Writing removes mental blocks and helps you use more of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you. If undertaken thoughtfully, it can be a source of conceptual development and a stimulus for the brain’s highest cognition.
When you’re writing strictly for yourself, it can clarify your own thoughts and feelings and help you recognize patterns in your life. In the course of this self-reflection, journaling can help you unlock deeper thoughts and understandings from your inner self. It can also facilitate critical thought and the expression of feelings about problems you’ve encountered during your life.
Psychologist and expressive writing expert, Dr. James Pennebaker, argues that journaling can actually strengthen immunity, decrease blood pressure, reduce stress and depression, and improve sleeping habits.
People sometimes ask: Is journaling any different from keeping a diary? Yes, it is. Because unlike traditional diary writing, where daily events are recorded from an exterior point of view, journaling focuses on internal experiences, reactions and perceptions.
Integration journaling and how it’s used in psychedelic therapy
We’ve taken a look at the science behind journaling, how and why it works. But what exactly is integration journaling? And how do we use it in the context of psychedelic therapy?
Integration journaling is a way to understand and process the wealth of information revealed by psychedelics. By keeping up a consistent journaling routine, you can start to make sense of your experiences in the context of your daily life.
Taking the time to reflect on and explore the thoughts and feelings you encounter during a psychedelic experience is the only way to fully integrate your insights into the way you’re living your life. Otherwise, those revelations tend to slip away amidst daily distractions.
Journaling in psychedelic therapy is used to:
- Calm and clear your mind
- Write about your struggles and your successes
- Enhance your self-awareness and elucidate your triggers
- Explore your experiences as you undergo treatment
- Track your progress as your treatment proceeds
How we use journaling at Mindbloom
At Mindbloom, we use journaling as a tool for two specific purposes - reflection journaling and integration journaling.
Immediately after their experience, we ask clients to journal on everything that came up during the session. For example:
- What are you feeling and thinking at the very moment you're writing?
- What was your experience like?
- Did you feel something you haven’t felt before?
- Did you experience something you haven’t experienced before?
Spending 20 minutes writing about your experience immediately after your session helps create longer-lasting benefits and provides a point of reference for future reflection.
During the week after the experience, we ask our clients to keep a journal in order to leverage your new neuroplastic state. Make it a habit to journal 20 minutes every day, preferably in the morning.
3 closing pointers
Dr. James Pennebaker, an expert in the field of expressive writing, recommends the following for the best results:
- Forget about grammar and spelling--the more you focus on just letting it flow, the better
- Be honest and authentic (write like no one else is going to read it!)--the less you censor yourself, the better
- Write by hand for better memory recall--the more material you remember and bring into your daily life, the better!
Remember that you’re in control. There’s no right or wrong here. The only rule is to write daily. Be consistent to make the most of it.
This article was reviewed by Casey Paleos MD, Medical Director of Mindbloom, Inc.