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 !


Fairy Tale Wisdom 3: The Shadow of the Wolf

Red Riding Hood and her Wolf Shadow

The Shadow of the Wolf

Little Red Riding Hood is a classic tale from the Brothers Grimm which calls forth a very specific Jungian interpretation, centered upon the character of the Wolf. If we read the story as a parable about individuation and transcendence, then Little Red Riding Hood represents the first age: the immature, somewhat innocent, undeveloped Ego, with the remainder of the Self as yet unconscious. Grandmother is the wise woman, the third age of maturity towards whom Red Riding Hood is travelling until she is waylaid. And the Wolf? Well, he is the Shadow with whom the Ego must grapple through the dark night of the soul, as Jung had it. Shadow is deceptive, cunning, ravenous to meet his own needs and in the story he deceives both Red Riding Hood and Grandmother with various ploys and disguises, just as the un-integrated Shadow in Jungian psychology.

Jung theorised from his own observations that all humans have a shadow archetype latent within, unconscious but active and full of discarded feelings, impulses and drives that society and our Egos suppress, repress and otherwise disown. For wholeness and maturation, we must encounter the shadow, own it and channel its impulses in healthy, constructive ways and thus disarm its destructive power at the same time as energising our own being – for the shadow is not ‘bad’ as such, just powerful and potentially destructive if not reined in. (See the inspirational blog by Jean Raffa  called Matrignosis here on wordpress for more detailed and deep analysis of the Shadow).

So Red Riding Hood ends up in the wolf’s stomach, alongside her previously eaten Grandmother and as the wiki entry Little Red Riding Hood suggests, this theme resonates with other ‘restoration’ myths such as Jonah and the Whale and Peter and the Wolf. To stay with our Jungian interpretation, let’s move on to consider the crescendo of the tale. A woodcutter comes along (perhaps the animus archetype who is next in line for archetypal encounters in the individuating Self), who rescues Red Riding Hood and Grandmother from the Wolf’s belly and they all ‘live happily ever after’, as Red Riding Hood and Grandmother (her future Self) have been delivered from the Wolf. Except the Wolf of course, who is either destroyed or runs off, depending on the version you choose.

But can this be right? Is it not a little sanitised and puritanical? In more modern versions, Red Riding Hood befriends the Wolf and absorbs his power and sensuality (for example the films An American Werewolf in London and The Company of Wolves), themes which ring more true and meaningful in light of human complexity. My favourite contemporary version is by ABC Once Upon A Time series, where Red is actually a complex combination of herself and the Wolf, the daughter of another wolf-human who teaches her to embrace her wolf-side as natural, not evil. Just like the Shadow, as part of the Self.

Here’s a clip and interviews with the production team and actors:

Fairy Tale Wisdom 2. Your Inner Fairy Godmother

File:Cinderella - Project Gutenberg etext 19993.jpg

Another favourite story in our home has been Cinderella. My childhood recollection of the older story book version doesn’t differ too much from the Disney one my kids are more familiar with (though they did have lots of bedtime stories from ‘proper’  fairy tale books as well but hey, Disney’s okay too as is the occasional video!). As a child, I never understood why Cinderella’s father left her to the mercy of the wicked stepmother and sisters. Not sure I’m any the wiser now, though I’m sure tomes have been written on the symbolism of Cinderella. Of course the most significant character has to be the fairy godmother who rescues Cinderella from her plight by magically transporting her into a realm where her real beauty can shine and where she can attract the attentions of Prince Charming (in other words pursue her dreams). My research has not been extensive here but I would like to offer a few thoughts.

  • Part of maturation involves the breaking free from outer dependencies, for instance the father-daughter (and mother/son etc.,) relationship must alter over time so that we eventually learn to stand on our own two feet. Perhaps this is the symbolism of the father ‘leaving’ Cinderella to the mercies of the world – the women who despise and abuse her (and in the case of men, other men perhaps?). 
  • The fairy godmother personifies the inner potential for freedom of expression, creativity, self-nurturance and dream fulfillment that is in all of us but may (often) be suppressed by for example internalised notions of who and what we should be, or indeed by actively oppressive relations, friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

The fairy godmother contains archetypal qualities – protectiveness, inspiration, magic, all of which symbolise the creative potential in all humans. Finding the key to unlock her door is a secret every person should have access to and the upsurge in written material from humanistic therapists, healers and gurus might mean a burgeoning availability of these kinds of insights for humanity. (Check out Jean Raffa’s blog here at wordpress and the writings of Debbie Ford). Here’s hoping! In the meantime, here’s an interesting article from psychotherapist Adam Phillips, with particular relevance for women struggling with opposition and perhaps even jealousy from other women in their lives.

Reference for Cinderella and fairy godmother image at the start of this post:

From Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various

Project Gutenberg etext 19993

Humans are Heroes

Jungian insights on the centrality of the hero myth for human life are all around us. All humans everywhere are on a journey of self-discovery and in that sense we are all heroes of our own life story.

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