Journal Me Happy: Creative Journal Therapy for Life

creative journal

Many people are finding a regular journal habit. 

According to writer and therapist Kathleen Adams, journaling as a therapeutic pastime began in tenth century Japan when court ladies wrote ‘pillow books’ to help them deal with the stresses and intrigues of court life. Writing down our personal experiences is not new.

Besides, most of us have at one time or another been moved or uplifted by an encounter with some image or piece of writing: a quotation; a poem; a story; a novel; a book; a song; a photograph, print or painting; a magazine article; even our own daily observations, dreams and daydreams.

But often the impact of the experience gets lost among the frenetic activity of everyday life, forgotten and no longer available to the conscious mind. A creative journal records these experiences and becomes a personal resource we can turn to again and again for inspiration and comfort.

During my work in mental health care, clients often remarked on the beneficial effects of art and craft activities as well as the uplifting effects of literature and poetry discussion groups. In these groups, we used articles, images, poems or stories from magazines and books, or even a trip to a museum or art gallery, to fuel our discussions. Some therapists call these techniques triggers or springboards and anyone can use them in their daily life to kick-start and maintain a creative journal for health and well-being.

Creative Journaling

Creative journaling allows you to record these encounters with your creative side and to get in touch with emotions, thoughts and memories. The very act of writing and compiling the materials is itself calming – while the hands are busy the mind is free – as Soneff and Caliquire assert in their book Art Journals and Creative Healing. Having this record to look back on from time to time can also be a useful emotional resource and provide support and motivation during times of stress and strain. Because of the way in which it connects us with our authentic selves, creative journaling can provide inner guidance during times of indecision and even just become a pleasant pastime and a source of personal satisfaction.

Creative journal therapy can be a helpful lifelong companion and there are many books and websites that provide tips and inspiration, as well as more in-depth books for those who wish to delve deeper into, for instance, dreamwork and ‘confronting the shadow’. Be aware, though, that many of these more advanced guides take a fairly challenging, psychoanalytical approach to journaling. For some, they may be worth thinking of a little further on, but perhaps with the supervision of a qualified therapist.

Some key points:

  • You are not creating a masterpiece; rather you are expressing your own inner being which is always beautiful and worthy.
  • You do not need to worry about language or spelling. Spontaneity and honesty are the only requirements.
  • Your journal will never be judged. When you browse back over stuff, it is for  personal reflection and insight alone. So allow your vulnerable side to emerge, nurture your soul as you would a child’s and your own inner child will come out to play!

Basic Materials

To start off with, a simple notebook is sufficient. The most useful type is one that has a blank page opposite a lined one – think of your old Science or Home Economics copies from school!  Pens and pencils, a pair of scissors, a printer (if you use a computer to browse for material) and a glue-stick complete the basic kit for your creative journal. Add stickers, postcards, photographs, ribbon, sequins, anything that calls to you as time goes on. Of course this can also be created as an electronic document for those so inclined but do take care with privacy. Personally, I prefer a paper copy to handle and write into directly.

Decorate and personalise your notebook cover and pages as you please with colours, stickers, stencils or whatever resonates for you. How often have you secretly envied the lovely art and stationery sets that kids get at Christmas and birthdays? With this journaling activity, feel free to put together your own box of tricks!

There is no need to purchase expensive kits or materials to begin with, as your first entries will be experimental, trying out your ‘voice’ and flexing your creative muscle. Further on, you may wish to look at the wider range of materials and kits available. Alternatively, straightforward art and craft supplies that are sold practically everywhere may appeal to you as you get into your journaling project.

Ideally, the more personalised you can make this notebook, the more it will come to represent your special ‘me-time’ and help you get in touch with your creative, healing self. So either choose one that appeals to your tastes or take a budget style version and stick or draw onto it with images, patterns, quotations or photographs that are special to you.

A Quiet Space

Identify a space or room where you can expect privacy. Make it comfortable and inviting with a relaxed atmosphere and with everything to hand that you will need for your creative journaling. A storage facility like shelves, a cupboard or even some decorated shoeboxes will hold all your necessities and a comfortable but supportive chair with a small desk or a lap table should be positioned for optimum back support as well as comfort. You are now ready to begin. A good idea is to start with a brief relaxation exercise such as slow breathing, visualisation or chanting a favourite mantra.


Some people may feel they want to set aside a specific day for journaling, or even foresee themselves journaling on a daily basis. My personal experience is that for several days in a row material just keeps cropping up, then I may go for a week or two with no entry and often find I use that time to browse back over previous entries. Alternatively, a set time of day to sit down with your journal may be helpful, when your body-mind will begin to tune into that as your time for getting in touch with yourself. Last thing at night may feel right for contemplation and journaling or if you wake early, that could be your inspiration time.  Above all, never feel you should work on your journal, just follow your inspiration and your own natural rhythms.

The Journaling Process

Next, be on the lookout for pieces of material that strike a chord with you. For instance, you may have at the back of your mind a favourite poem, book or painting and if you don’t have a copy on hand, either Google, Wikipedia or your local library will help out. It’s useful also to keep a rough pad and pencil handy at all times, to copy out poems, quotations or references as they come to you, or to jot down flashes of inspiration that pop into your mind, which you can then transfer to your proper journal later on. Hone your awareness to material that makes an impression on you personally – quotations and images in magazines for instance, or have a browse through old photographs, letters or your book collection. As soon as something hits your emotional buttons, you’re off.

Make a record of the piece – copy or stick it in as the first part of your journal entry for that day (it is helpful to date each entry). Then start to jot down your thoughts and feelings about the piece: how you found it; what you like about it; how you feel when you engage with it; what memories it calls up for you; what it might symbolise for you; any goals or intentions that emerge as you think and write about it.

If finding something to write about is eluding you, just pick a colour and start doodling, scribbling and ‘messing around’. In her book The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself, Lucia Cappachione advises this kind of limbering up exercise and suggests that eventually, words will come, or you will begin to feel a reaction to the images you are creating on the page, feelings and thoughts you can then write down.

Another author whose ideas are inspirational is Diana Trout, an artist who has incorporated journaling and art making into everyday life. She advises a technique called ‘spilling’, using images and words to brainstorm spin-off words and feelings that can then be entered into your journal; words like time; rose; twilight; living; wings; ocean; snow; hope; river; luck; stone. These words might also spark a search for images or a drawing session, all manner of expressions may flow out of a single starter word.

References and Further reading

Kathleen Adams, Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth, 1990, Grand Central Publishing

Lucia Cappachione, The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself, 2nd edition, 2002, New Page Books / The career Press, new Jersey

Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, 1968, Turtleback Books

Tristine Rainer, The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-guidance and Expanded Creativity, 1981, Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher

Sharon Soneff and Mindy Caliquire, Art Journals and Creative Healing: Restoring the Spirit through Self Expression, 2008, Rockport Publishers Inc.

Diana Trout, Journal Spilling: Mixed Media Techniques for free Expression, 2009, North Light Books

Citation for Images from creative commons Google images advanced search ‘free to use, share or modify’ accessed 20th Feb 2013, trackback to:

Image 1 from

Image 2 from

Many websites provide daily hints to get your journaling juices flowing. Any internet search engine will call them up; this is one of the best sites I’ve come across:

creative journaling                                     HAPPY JOURNALING !


3 Comments (+add yours?)

    Feb 28, 2013 @ 10:30:37

    I keep creative journals for notes, stories, pictures, etc. Although I like typing on a computer, it is always refreshing to carry a notebook to jot down snippets of thoughts while people watching.


    Liked by 1 person


    • Roberta McDonnell
      Feb 28, 2013 @ 10:41:18

      Delighted to hear your experiences Ancient Librarian and to meet a fellow scribbler! Yes, I find the connection through a pen or pencil on paper seems to activate something deeper, or connect with the inner world more readily. Also agree with the handiness of jotting down observations as they happen, I recently tried Evernote on my phone to log random bits and pieces, but its not the same somehow. Thanks for commenting : )



        Feb 28, 2013 @ 10:55:32

        I don’t know if you’re used background music — Baroque in particular to write. It’s wonderful!

        Some doctors play Baroque music during surgeries. It has something to do with the level of notes that penetrate the subconscious.

        Liked by 1 person

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