The Way of the Journal

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By Kathleen Adams, MA, LPC

Sidran Institute Press, 1998

Available on


The Way of the Journal is a two week therapeutic jounaling program that is designed to help people learn how to journal. The book teaches 10 fundamental skills through a variety of exercises that can be completed in less than 30 minute sessions. Adams found that most journaling programs ask too much from its readers too early by having them write out essays and long free write exercises. The exercises start off simple by having the reader write one sentence at a time. Each day the exercises increase in complexity, giving the reader the skills, confidence, and comfort in engaging in long complex journal techniques. Adams developed the workbook to help individuals who have traumatic stress conditions, and the safety and health of the reader is a high priority throughout the book.

Techniques Used

  • Sentence Stems: These are very short responses to a prompt that usually involve filling in a blank within a sentence such as: A word that describes me is ______________. The idea behind this technique is that it can help a person learn how to think introspectively by having them simply fill in a blank.
  • 5 Minute Writing Sprints: The five minute sprint is simply writing about anything a person wants to for just five minutes. Things to write about can include a feeling, a decision, an event that just happened, or anything else. During this brief time an individual has the opportunity to journal about whatever is on their mind. Adams suggests that the main thing to remember is to stop at five minutes and review what you have written.
  • Structured Writing Exercise: This technique has specific steps to take that make in depth journaling simple and not overwhelming. It takes the sentence stems method and expands it to allow the individual to go into more depth about a particular issue. Adams suggests this is a useful technique for individuals who don't know where to start, don't want to get overwhelmed, want to focus on one area, or you want to track an issue over time.
  • Clustering: This very common journaling method involves placing a word, i.e. emotion, issue, event, in the center of a page and then write other words that you associate with the original word. This is a great technique for getting unstuck and for generating new ideas. Adams says, "With each cluster you'll find a personal expanded definition of the theme that represents a personal history of your relationship to it. It is, therefore, a way of better understanding your meaning when you use the cluster word or phrase."
  • AlphaPoems: In this technique the participant is to write a word, such as hope, down the side of the page and then write a poem using the letters those letters. Each successive line of the poem should begin with the next letter in your original word.
  • Character Sketch: A character sketch consists of describing a specific person or part of yourself. An individual can write a sketch about almost anything. It can be another person, one's subconscious mind, pain, or body part. This technique is helps a person understand their projections and collect information in their own thinking about other people.
  • Dialogue: This technique involves an individual writing out a conversation with another person, emotions, body part, or any other entity. It is a very common method and allows an individual to hold a conversation with someone and tell them things they may normally not be able to say.
  • Springboards: These are short questions or statements that prompt an individual in writing. They consist of a basic phrase such as What do I Want?, and then the participant is to respond to the question. Adams suggests that prompts in the form of questions tend to have responses that are more emotionally and focused on feelings, while prompts in the form of sentence stems (I Want ______) will generate more logical and thinking responses.
  • Poetry: Writing poetry can be intimidating, but Adams suggest that it doesn't have to be. Simply think of a phrase, place, situation and begin to write. Poems do not have to rhyme or keep time. Adams suggests just start to write line by line and develop your own natural rhythm.
  • Free Writing: Free writing is the most free flowing and unstructured form of journaling. It consists of simply writing whatever comes to your mind and continuing for an extended period of time. There is nothing incorrect that one can write, however it is important to try to write continuously.

Interesting Ideas

  • Reward Yourself When It's Over: Kathleen Adams argues that it is important to reward one's self after they finish journaling. This can include taking a bubble bath, reading a book, or breathing exercises. Journaling is an emotional activity that can be painful and difficult to do. It is important to reward ourselves after expressing our emotions.
  • Containment: The act of journaling takes thought, feelings, and energy out of one's mind and into a neutral place where it is stored. If a person is writing about something that is too difficult or is upsetting they should simply close their journal and put it away. A person should recognize their own warning signs. Individual safety is the most important thing. If a person does write something that is emotionally sensitive and they don't want to revisit, they can fold the page and return to it with a therapist.
  • Breathe: A person should write the word BREATHE at the top of every page in their journal, and any time they glance at it they should take a short moment to stop writing and take a deep breath.

Interesting Links

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