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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings


Updated: Jul 8, 2023

The field of cognitive psychology is said to involve the “study of internal mental processes—all of the workings inside your brain, including perception, thinking, memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and learning.”

I’m not a cognitive psychologist. What I have to say about mental and emotional information processing can and has been stated in superior ways by other people.

Nonetheless, when clients ask me about why I recommend journaling I find it useful to say why I think the practice may be helpful. As well, I cite my subjective beneficial experience with this specific psychotherapeutic tool.

While I’m aware that not everyone thinks in the same manner, and there are some who claim not to have an inner voice, I’ve observed more lasting and effective change from clients who regularly practice journaling than in regards to those who do not.

While somewhat oversimplified, I conceptualize essentially three common ways of thinking. These relate to intra-cranially (mental function of the brain also referred to as cognition), through written form (e.g., journaling), and through speaking aloud (also known as verbal protocol).

According to one source, “Pure’ thinking is not very helpful because it’s hard to keep focus on thoughts.” It may be difficult to fully understand from where intra-cranial thoughts come, let alone to focus them into useful concepts without writing or speaking them aloud.

Think about thinking for a moment. How often are you distracted by your thoughts? When able to experience the infrequent thought you think will change your life, how quickly does it fade?

Within a minute, I can identify many thoughts about various topics. An hour later, trying to recall what I previously thought may be virtually impossible.

This is why I rate pure cognition as the least effective form of problem solving. Entertaining, sure, though not necessarily useful for accomplishing my goals.

Relating to goal attainment from a mental health perspective, the method of thinking I find most effective is through use of speaking aloud. This is one reason why “talk therapy” is reportedly effective at treating depression.

I imagine that as humans evolved and language developed we honed our ability to think rationally by verbalizing our thoughts to others. Perhaps we’re currently in a state of de-evolving with overreliance on written forms of communication (e.g., texting). Time will tell.

Pertaining to the current journal entry, I consider written thought to be the second order of thinking that doesn’t require a psychotherapist or other party and which isn’t limited by thoughts aimlessly bouncing around the mind, so to speak.

Per one source, “In studies wherein experimental groups that were subjected to written treatments on tests were compared with control groups that were not, indications of critical thinking skills measured more highly in the former than the latter.”

Reader, what do you think? If you can’t talk through a problem with a trusted source, what method do you find more effective, thinking alone or thinking through written form?

Perhaps you’re a highly effective thinker who don’t need no stinkin’ writing or talking. You go! For the rest of the audience, why might it be that writing allows us to think more effectively?

Addressing how written thought is utilized effectively, one source highlights how brainstorming and thesis development, researching a topic, organization of information, drafting and revising, editing and proofreading, and completion of written thought are hallmarks of educational thought.

Still, journaling doesn’t have to be so formulaic. It shouldn’t, mustn’t, nor oughtn’t to be anything other than what may best serve your interests. This is why I don’t advise my clients about how to journal.

If you’re interested in learning about how others approach journaling, I invite you to write the following into your preferred internet search engine: how to journal for mental health

Personally, I’m fond of daily journaling. Even if there’s nothing more to write other than factual information, I write (e.g., It’s 80 degrees in the month of December, which is reminiscent of springtime when I was a child).

I find utility in setting a writing schedule, honoring that time by showing up and following through, clearing my mind, and processing if or when emotional content arises. A major benefit of this strategy relates to memory recall, as I can learn from my past experience.

Still, other people write so that they won’t remember the information. Matthew McConaughey is said to have stated, “What journaling does for me is that I don’t write things so I can remember, I write things down so I can forget them.”

This is akin to the effect of processing through a written trauma narrative. Only, rather than mentally forgetting an event individuals are said to emotionally free themselves from attachment to traumatic experiences.

Many of my clients share their journal entries with me and this makes for a more enriching therapy session, because they’ve already completed the initial steps of thinking. Still, some people avoid writing and instead dwell on “why” it may be beneficial to them.

In a blog entry entitled More Tools for the Proverbial Toolbox; I highlighted psychotherapist Phil Stutz’s explanation to this question—a response some people may find helpful:

“One trick of that is writing. It’s really a magical thing. You enhance your relationship with yourself by writing,” and, “If you start to write, the writing is like a mirror. It reflects what’s going on in your unconscious.”

Perhaps you kept a diary as a child. What as that experience like? Maybe you’ve journaled before. Was it helpful, unhelpful, or something neither useful nor useless?

It’s not entirely unlikely you detest writing and refuse to consider it as a practice you wish to employ. Fair enough. I’m not here to tell others what they should, must, or ought to do.

For those interested in improving the experience of thinking and who are open to journaling, I encourage you to give this tool a try. You may be surprised what comes up.

If you’re looking for a provider who can assist with processing your experience through verbal protocol, and who will likely mention journaling at some point in your treatment, you’ve found who you’re looking for.

Using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I can help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life. I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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