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On Keeping a Personal Journal

Congratulations! You took the plunge and entered therapy or you are very close to doing so. This means you are committed to taking a journey into inner space — your inner space. No doubt you are doing this with the purpose of attaining some significant psychological change. For some, change — even major change — may be relatively quick in coming. For others, change can occur but it is hard won.

You may ask, what can change? How do you know change when you see it? What happens if you get bogged down? Are there any ways to accelerate change?

Fortunately, there is a surefire method of identifying what can change, an aid to getting unstuck, a means to measure progress or the lack of it, and a way to accelerate the process. This method is keeping a personal journal.

Keeping a journal is not the same thing as keeping a daily diary. Into your journal will go those thoughts and feelings that truly connect with what is felt to be deepest and most vital within you. When you journal, how much you journal, and what you journal is strictly up to you. You may be moved to make entries at a set time each day. There may be days when you record your experience hour by hour, or large gaps of time — days, weeks, even months — when nothing seems to be all that compelling. The only requirement is that you dedicate yourself to being as absolutely honest with yourself as possible.

A Critical Events Autobiography

We are each the sum of all of our experiences and the meanings we have consciously and unconsciously attributed to them. Obviously, it would be of value to have some record indicating how you got to be where you presently are. In this connection, a potentially illuminating exercise that covers the sweep of your entire life is the creation of a “critical events” autobiography.

To do this, you might divide your life into five-year segments (that is, birth to age five, ages six to ten, and so forth). You might wish to describe the important authority figures in your life — who they are, how they are, their personal histories, how they met each other, your relationship to each and all. Include siblings, extended family, and significant others.

Once you have completed this task, try to recall and record any events that stand out for any reason, commenting on what was concluded from each, then moving on to the next noteworthy event. Include vivid memories, family stories of trauma, major losses, marker experiences (moves), and a basic attitude toward living (either easy or hard).

A thorough dedication to completing this task will inevitably highlight the most important themes, unfinished problems, unresolved conflicts, goals, and inferred obstacles to your living “the good life.”

You might wish to share this material with your therapist or counselor.

On Keeping a Personal Journal

Gibbs Williams

APA Reference
Williams, G. (2020). On Keeping a Personal Journal. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.