How do I journal?

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Our goal in journaling is to open a mental pathway from what's at the top of your mind down toward something that's been buried in the dungeon of stuff you'd just as soon forget about.

- Dr. Nancy Selfridge, Freedom From Fibromyalgia

In TMS patients chronic pain and other illnesses are the result of the subconscious mind blocking emotions by creating pain or other illnesses in a person's body. The practice of journaling can help a person express their emotions in a safe and healthy manner. There has been a lot of information written about journaling. The following information is a summary of common ideas and practices on the subject. This page is meant to be an education tool on the various journaling practices. It is not meant to be taken as a treatment plan. For medical advice see a medical professional.

General Thoughts

Journaling can be an intense activity for people with TMS. It is a practice that helps a person get in touch with repressed emotions, and by doing this a flood of other emotions and feelings can come pouring out. A lot of people have mentioned that they have started journaling about one topic and ended up writing about feelings and thoughts they never knew they had. When journaling it is important to let your mind wander and write down anything and everything that you think of. Something that you may think is not important or not TMS related could give you insight upon review.

An important thing to remember is that you should not replace symptom obsession with journaling obsession. Journaling should not take very long to do. Most practitioners recommend around 20-30 minutes when you first start and then even less later on. The main aim of journaling is to help a person understand some of their repressed emotions, and to get a person in the routine of connecting emotions to pain. Another thing to keep in mind is that some people experience pain after they journal. This may happen because our minds do not want us to feel and express our emotions. When this happens tell your subconscious that it is healthy for you to express your emotions, and realize your pain is just you mind attempting to repress your emotions.

There are several methods and steps that are included in a successful journaling program. These include making lists, cluster writing, free writing, unsent letters, dialogues, and altered point of view. Journaling can be an extremely emotional process. It is important for individuals to get all of their emotions out. When going through this process it is okay to be emotional. Remember expressing your feelings is a good thing.

List Making

Several practitioners have found making lists to be beneficial in a person's journaling program. These lists allow the patient to uncover all of the triggers, stresses, and personality traits that precipitate their symptoms. In order to effectively journal it is important that the patient uncover repressed emotions. In writing these lists get three pieces of paper (one for each list) and write as many things you can think of regardless if it is connected to TMS symptoms.

Past or Childhood Events

Everyone has been shaped by their past and their childhood. In order to uncover repressed emotions it is important to list past traumatic or stressful events. This includes any event or past action that has resulted in negative emotions such as hurt, pain, anger, humiliation, fear, worry. This list should include any event that comes to a person's mind, even if one does not think it has anything to do with their symptoms.

Current Stressors

People's lives are filled with stressful situations and interactions. This list is designed to allow the patient to uncover their present stresses and triggers in their life. Events and stresses that cause hurt, pain, anger, humiliation, fear, worry or any other negative emotion should be listed. When making this list it is important for a person to list anything that comes to their mind, regardless if it is connected to their TMS symptoms.

Personal Characteristics

It is important for a person to recognize what personality traits they have that may be contributing to their TMS symptoms. List any traits including perfectionism, goodism, low self-esteem, worry, anger, holding onto anger and resentment, guilt, and isolation. It is important to write down every personality trait a person can think of, especially traits that were developed or learned in childhood and ones a person currently possesses.

Free or Fast Writing

Fast Writing is very similar to what is sounds like. It is a process of writing about issues in a fast and constant motion. By writing faster than normal one tends to forget to censor their thoughts and truly write about how they are feeling. It allows a person to uncover the deeper issues behind their chronic pain and suffering. A person can write for as long as they like, but sometimes it can be helpful to do it for a specific time period, such as 10-15 minutes. There are several steps and reminders that need to be taken for a person to successfully fast write.

  • Choose a topic or issue from a previous cluster or list and write about it.
  • Keep your hand moving fast and write in a meditative environment, allowing your thoughts to freely move onto the page.
  • Don't cross anything out, even if you didn't mean to write it.
  • Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. This is meant to be viewed only by you, and stopping for grammatical errors will only hamper a person's ability to freely write.
  • Write down any and all thoughts that come to your mind, regardless of their relevance.
  • Try to avoid writing about daily events. Instead focus on your emotions and the factors that relate to your emotions and feelings, such as specific events, issues, and personality traits.
  • Be open to any and all feelings and emotions that need to be expressed. Journaling can be an extremely emotional activity for people. Allow all your emotions to pour out onto the page.
  • End by writing that it is helpful for you to express your emotions and feelings. It can also be helpful to write down several things that you are grateful for that day.

Unsent Letters

Dr. Howard Schubiner in Unlearn Your Pain (2010) suggests that writing Unsent Letters to other people can also be a helpful form of journaling. Many patients have difficulty in expressing their emotions to other people. By writing a letter to these people expressing how one feels about certain events or issues they can release their emotions and gain understanding about their feelings. There are several steps that can be taken to write an effective unsent letter

  • Choose a person, group, or entity to write to. You can write to anyone or anything and about any topic. Some people find it helpful to write to people they are angry with, while others feel the need to write to those they wish to express gratitude, love, and thanks. Some people find it helpful to write a letter to themselves as a way to write to their subconscious mind.
  • Give yourself approximately 10-15 minutes and free write. Since this letter will not be sent you can write uncensored and let your emotions about this person or group flow through the page.
  • You are in safe place when writing this letter and can express any and all thoughts and feelings that you may have.
  • It may be beneficial to end this process with positive reflection and writing. This means that after you finish writing the letter reflect on what you just wrote, and write a reflection on how this person has affected your life in a positive manner. It is important to reflect on how you have grown through having a relationship with the person.

By not sending these letters a person can freely express how they feel and begin to understand how interactions with other people or groups have affected their subconscious. Writing these letters can be an extremely emotional activity, and it is important to end each of these letters on a positive note.

Altered Point of View

In the book Therapeutic Journaling (2008), Susan Derozier suggests that journaling in the third person can be very helpful. Instead of writing with phrases such as I am feeling use phrases in the third person like He/She is feeling. Derozier suggests that this style may be helpful for someone who has trouble writing about a traumatic or difficult issue. It also allows the person to see their situation from a different point of view, which can provide significant insight into one's life.


By writing a dialogue between oneself and another person, one can begin to understand the actions of other people and release bottled up emotions. These dialogues can ease one's mind and allow one to investigate a way to handle certain situations. A person can write out a dialogue between any person, group, entity, or even body part. Again, since this will be only on paper a person can feel free to write anything they need to say to a person/group down. The following are some tips that can help in writing a dialogue.

  • Begin by writing a simple statement or question and let your mind, heart, hand respond in any way it feels like.
  • Respond for the other person/group in a way that you think they will likely respond. This will help a person begin to see events and issues from another angle.
  • Continue this back and forth for approximately 10-15 minutes, or however long you want.
  • Try not to script the responses. Let the dialogue be free flowing and write whatever comes to mind.
  • When finished, meditate and reflect on what emotions you expressed and what you learned through the dialogue. Write these down and affirm that it is good and healthy for you to investigate your feelings and relationship with this person.

Conversation with Younger Self

In the book Journalution (2005), Sandry Grason describes a technique that helps a person hold an imagined conversation with their childhood selve. By doing this a person may be able to recognize factors about their life that they have been avoiding or repressing. Also, it is sort of a way for you to receive feedback from the person you were as a child. This can be helpful in uncovering past emotions and events that you have repressed for a long time.

  • Imagine yourself when you were a child. There isn't a specific age, but it is important to note what age you are imagining.
  • Begin to think about your home, the room you lived in. Try and remember any smells or sounds that you attributed to that time. Really put yourself in the place of your childhood.
  • Start up a conversation with your childhood-self, and let it go where ever it may. A good starting point may be what you did at work that day. Respond however you think your childhood-self would respond.
  • After doing this for 5-10 minutes, notice what age you imagined yourself at. Do a brief free write about why you choose that specific age, on this specific day.

TMSWiki member mizlorinj has used this technique and posted in following in a thread.

I do remember doing this, and when you take the time to really sit and bring the 5 year old up, you can then feel the feelings, and it is amazing what memories do come back! More journaling topics! Also keeping in mind, as you said, responding and feeling as the child did at the time--not the adult looking back or any other person with any judgments.

Click Here to Read Entire Thread

Cluster / Spider Writing

Cluster or Spider Writing is a quick way to write down several short thoughts and emotions that are connected to previous or current events/personality traits. This is a form of brainstorming that gives a person a quick path to self-discovery. It consists of putting an issue or topic in a circle, or nucleus, in the center of a piece of paper. Then one writes 1-4 word phrases about the nucleus topic. The process is very easy and only takes five minutes to complete. The following steps were adapted from Dr. Howard Schubiner's book Unlearn Your Pain (2010).

  • Step 1: Choose an issue, topic, or event in one of the previously created lists and put it in the nucleus.
  • Step 2: Start a timer for approximately five minutes
  • Step 3: Relax and begin to breath deeply. Begin to write down your thoughts and feelings about the nucleus topic in 1-4 word phrases. Draw a circle around these thoughts and connect them to the center nucleus by drawing a line to it.
  • Step 4: From this point on a person can write about any circle on the page. Either write about the nucleus or another circle connected to it. After writing a new thought about a circle, connect that thought to the circle that prompted it.
  • Step 5: Continue this process until the five minutes is up. The page should be filled with circles or clusters that make the page look kind of like a spider. If you run out of room on one side of the page, just connect your next thought back to the center nucleus or get use another sheet of paper. It is important to not worry about making spelling errors or filtering your thoughts. Write down anything that comes to mind.

Feel free to do this as many times as you want. Since it only takes about five minutes a person can do cluster writing almost anywhere and anytime. A person should try and choose a new topic each time they do this activity. Several practitioners have suggested that it is not beneficial for a person to continue to journal about the same issue time and time again.

Journaling Tips and Issues

Journaling is a confidential activity that allows a person to freely express their emotions. There are however several roadblocks and issues that might hamper a person's ability to effectively journal.

  • Some people have severe pain in their hands that may make them afraid to write or type. Some people may believe they are in too much pain to write. If a person is feeling this way it is important for them to remind themselves that they do not have structural damage and writing will not hurt them. This person should tell their mind that they are going to investigate their emotions and that there is no more need for their pain or symptoms.
  • While some people journal and investigate their feelings they may have onsets of or an increase in pain. These people need to tell their subconscious mind that it is okay for them to express their emotions, and that journaling is good for them.
  • Write out affirmations at the end of a journaling exercise stating that investigating your emotions is a good thing, and that you will be cured of your chronic symptoms.
  • Some people have trouble with writing out their emotions. If so, find another way to express your feelings in a meditative fashion. This could include drawing or painting, as well as talking into a tape recorder.
  • There has been some debate on the usefulness of re-reading one's journal. TMS professional Georgie Oldfield suggests that one should journal and release their feelings, but not re-read the journal and rehash those feelings. However, Dr. Howard Schubiner and Dr. David Schechter have suggested that it may be useful for individuals to read their journals at the end of the week and reflect on their emotions. This issue is really left up to the individual person. A patient should do what they find helpful to their condition, and follow the advice of their doctor.
  • Don't keep going over and over the same issue or event. It is important to move past some issues and events. By staying on one troubling issue it may be difficult for a person to move past it. Journal on different issues and events. This way you will be addressing emotions in all aspects of your life.
  • Lastly it is very important for a person to end a journaling session on a positive note. Some suggestions on how to do this are to write five things you are grateful for that day or write how certain circumstances have had a positive affect on your life. This may be hard at times, but it can be helpful in overcoming they way a person views certain events.

Journaling Approaches

There are several practitioners and authors who have mentioned and discussed journaling in their work. Each of these authors and practitioners have interesting insights into the benefits of journaling and successful techniques that can be utilized.

Ronald Siegel, Psy.D. Back Sense (2 pages on Journaling)

Dr. Siegel suggests that a person should set aside approximately 15 minutes to journal. While he feels that a person should journal every day to start with, after the first few sessions a person can skip days and even writing only once a week. He suggests to create a schedule and be willing add extra journaling sessions if something is bothering you. Any emotional event can be written about, however in his opinion negative experiences are important to address. Dr. Siegel suggests writing continuously, and if you run out of things to say it is alright to repeat yourself. He also recognizes that in the beginning journaling can make a person feel worse. Investigating negative emotions can be difficult, and can make one feel unhappy in the beginning. However, through consistent journaling one can come to grips with their emotions and past experiences and begin to get better.

Nancy Selfridge, MD. Freedom From Fibromyalgia (22 pages on Journaling)

Dr. Selfridge has an extensive chapter about journaling in her book that outlines her recommended journaling program. She identifies several important characteristics to journaling including:

  • Do not write about pains or other symptoms
  • Do not write about activities you've done (or left undone), what you ate, how you slept, or what medicine you took
  • Successful journaling requires a person to focus on an experience that provoked anger.
  • It is not necessary to locate the underlying causes of your anger, but simply recognize when and how you were angry.
  • Write on wide-ruled paper or double space the lines, so that you can review your journal and write between the lines.
  • Do not shuffle or remove pages and write in pen only, not pencil.
  • Feel free to change what you wrote. If you do cross something out make sure that you can still read it so when you review the journal you can comment about the change
  • After you finish journaling contemplate on what you just wrote and the emotions you expressed

Scott Brady, MD. Pain Free for Life (27 pages on Journaling)

Dr. Brady has a chapter on journaling in his book and refers to the process of journaling as breaking away the rocks of emotion. He gives scientific evidence about the benefit of journaling as well as brief anecdotes of patients. The following are several aspects of Dr. Brady's journaling techniques.

  • Make three areas to write about in your life: Past, Personality, and Present, and write about one a day for about twenty minutes.
  • After choosing a topic, then choose a specific emotion to write about and focus on, such as fear, shame, anxiety or anger.
  • Write down the intensity of your pain on a scale of 1-10 in the journal. This will allow a person to see the progress they are having.
  • When a person is writing about an event or issue they should focus on their emotions the event caused, not just the event itself.
  • Keep your journal on you at all times. When you feel a flare up of pain or intense emotions journal about it where ever you are.
  • If a person is not comfortable writing about strong emotions such as anger or rage, they should work their way up to it by writing about less intense emotions such as frustration or irritation.
  • Feel free to discard or keep any or all of your journal entries. Some people find it helpful to reflect on their journals every week others do not.

David Schechter, MD. The Mind Body Workbook

Dr. Schechter has produced a workbook that is designed to stimulate journaling. The following are some aspects of the program.

  • It has specific questions and prompts for people to write about and respond to.
  • Asks the patient to review their journal at the end of every week and write about how they feel about their progress.
  • Each day has different questions so the patient will be able to write about different things everyday.
  • The first week of the program seeks to reinforce the patient's believe that TMS is the cause of their pain. It also asks the patient to reflect and journal about their TMS reading, which is usually a book by Dr. Sarno.
  • The second week begins by asking the patient to evaluate how the program is working for them. The program asks patients to reflect about their first week of journaling, and recognize any outstanding issues or repressed emotions they may have. The second week also asks for patients to investigate repressed anger either from their past or from current situations like work.
  • The third seeks to dig deeper into the patients emotional self. It asks about the progress the patient has made, and encourages the patient to continue to be more active. Some of the questions focus on a patient's parents would react if they felt a certain way.
  • Week four of the program addresses any outstanding issues. There are questions about the nature of a patient's pain such as what they do when they are in pain, and what scares them about their pain. It also asks patients to write about what their parents praised them for, and how they have been praised in past events. The fourth week focuses on positives in a person's life, and asks them to journal about things that make them whole and fulfilled.

Howard Schubiner, MD. Unlearn Your Pain

Dr. Schubiner's book serves as a treatment program and includes an extensive journaling program. There are several aspects to this program.

  • A person should write every day using a combination of cluster and free writing techniques.
  • It is helpful to develop several different journaling techniques and switch between them week to week
  • A person should focus on one topic a day from either past events, current events, or personality traits.
  • Reflecting on the past weeks journal entries can be helpful in a person's recovery.
  • In the first week of the program patients are asked to journal using a combination of the cluster and free writing techniques. Patients are asked to write about a specific issue and investigate how a past event, current stressor, or personality trait has affected them. At the end of the journaling session the patient is told to write an affirmation about the benefit of investigating their emotions.
  • Week two of the program has the patient begin to write unsent letters to people, groups, or entities. The program encourages the patient to write uncensored and write how the recipient makes them feel. At the end of writing the letter the program suggests writing an affirmation that investigating your relationship with this person is healthy and is beneficial.
  • The technique used in week three is dialogue. The program asks that a person write a dialogue between themselves and another person, group, or body part. Patients are also asked to engage in "free write" about what they are grateful for, who they forgive or need forgiveness from, and what are some barriers in their life.
  • In week four the patient is asked to list characteristics they like about themselves. Then they are asked to think of stressful situations and journal on how they will respond to these situations moving forward. Also, the program asks that patients write down tasks they need to accomplish and journal ways to complete the task.

Georgie Oldfield Top 25 Tips for Journaling

TMS coach Georgie Oldfield wrote an article about journaling that gives several helpful tips on how to successfully journal.

  • A person can journal in any thing that they want to. Some people like writing in a bounded journal, but loose leaf paper is also adequate, or even typing.
  • Before starting it can be helpful to plan what you want to write about, or alternatively follow your thoughts and free write.
  • It is important to journal at a time when you feel relaxed and comfortable, or even just feeling the need to vent how you feel. Writing when you don't feel like it can make journaling seem more like a chore, instead of a release.
  • Using prompts and questions can help a person begin writing and allow deeper thoughts/feelings/emotions to come up to conscious awareness.
  • Writing from another person's perspective can help you gain deeper insight into events and issues if you can't access how you felt yourself at the time.
  • If a person is having trouble sleeping journaling for ten minutes may be helpful to ofload whatever is going round your head.
  • Don't continue to write over and over about the same issue or emotion.The aim is to offload, gain understanding and then be able to let go and move on.
  • End journaling sessions on a positive note. e.g. write down what you feel gratedul for or your achievements.
  • It can be beneficial to visualize oxygen flowing to the area of pain before, during or after journaling.
  • Do not continue to re-read what you have written if you have been offloading about particularly traumatic/emotional memories. In my experience this tends to stir up how you felt when what you really want to do is acknowledge, offload and then let go.

Kelvin Gunnell's Daily TMS Exercise and Journal

TMS Wiki member Kelvin Gunnell has developed a free online journaling program that is designed to help TMS sufferers to express their emotions. The free guide is available in both Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF formats.

  • A person should begin journaling every day for the first two weeks, then decrease to twice a week for two weeks, once a week for two weeks, and finally once a month until their chronic TMS symptoms subside.
  • It is important to view journaling as homework, and to set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to review TMS related material.
  • The guide consists of five journaling prompts that allow a person to uncover their emotions
  • Allows a person to journal on the computer
  • If a person is having a bad day it can be helpful to look back at previous journal entries, so they can see how they have improved.
  • Saving journal entries is beneficial because it allows a person to review their progress.


There were several books and journals used to research the writing of this page. The following are the works cited for the writing of this page:

  1. Susan Derozier. Therapuetic Journaling: A Road to Healing. Outskirts Press. 2008
  2. Georgie Oldfield. "Top 25 Tips for Successful Journaling." Found at
  3. Dr. Howard Schubiner. Unlearn Your Pain. Mind Body Publishing. Pleasent Ridge: 2010.

Other Resources

DISCLAIMER: The TMS Wiki is for informational and support purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. See Full Disclaimer.