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Journaling as a Supportive Measure for Veterans Coping with PTSD

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that 15% of veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom currently battle PTSD, with nearly 29% experiencing it at some stage in their lifetimes. This underscores the critical need for effective interventions. Among the various therapeutic options, journaling emerges as a key supportive tool in the healing journey for veterans.

Journaling's Role in Veteran Healing

Employing journaling as part of a mental health strategy offers substantial benefits for individuals grappling with PTSD symptoms. Specifically for PTSD, the act of journaling facilitates the processing of traumatic experiences and stress management. Research involving a small group of veterans indicated that journaling provided a channel for emotional expression, highlighted personal concerns, and nurtured a sense of control and empowerment. For veterans dealing with adverse emotions linked to PTSD, journaling acts as a mechanism for thought reformation and fostering the drive towards positive life modifications.

Journaling as a Complementary Therapy

Journaling proves most advantageous for veterans with PTSD when integrated with traditional therapy. It extends the healing process beyond therapy sessions, enabling veterans to apply coping mechanisms learned during these sessions to their emotional processing through writing. This practice not only aids in emotion regulation but also contributes to a reduction in symptoms of anger, distress, and PTSD, making it a viable coping mechanism.

The private nature of journaling offers a safe avenue for veterans to confront and navigate through intense emotions. This method allows for an alternative emotional outlet, which can then be explored further in therapy sessions.

Initiating a Journaling Practice: Advice for Veterans

For veterans interested in journaling, starting can sometimes appear daunting. Here are several pointers to embark on this therapeutic journey:

  • Select a serene space dedicated to journaling to ensure focus and minimal disruptions
  • Commit to writing for a set duration, ideally 15–20 minutes, concentrating on an emotionally significant yet manageable event
  • Emphasize personal privacy in your writing, and don't concern yourself with external judgments or perfect grammar 
  • Acknowledge that emotional discomfort post-journaling is normal and usually short-lived

Addressing Journaling Obstacles

Journaling may initially prompt emotional discomfort; recognizing this as a short-lived phase and engaging in self-soothing activities afterward can mitigate these feelings. If journaling triggers overwhelming emotions, pausing the activity and seeking immediate support from a professional or trusted individual is crucial.

For those experiencing writer's block, simply letting thoughts flow onto the page without censorship can help. If you're uncertain about the content, focusing on reframing your perspective on the traumatic experience can provide clarity and direction.

Journaling Content Suggestions for Veterans

Veterans can explore numerous themes in their journals, including but not limited to:

  • Personal reflections on traumatic or stressful incidents
  • Expressions of grief or loss
  • Accounts of resilience and strength in adversity
  • Perspectives on making meaning from traumatic experiences
  • The transition experience from military to civilian life

The essence of journaling lies in its ability to provide a private, reflective space for veterans to process their experiences deeply.

Extending Beyond PTSD: Journaling's Broader Impact

While journaling is particularly effective for managing PTSD symptoms, its benefits extend to alleviating depression, anxiety, and emotional turmoil following significant life changes or losses.

Journaling as an Enhancement, Not a Replacement

It's important to view journaling as a complement to professional psychological support, not a standalone solution. Particularly for veterans experiencing PTSD, professional guidance is crucial for navigating the complexities of their symptoms.

Seeking Comprehensive Treatment: A Path to Wellness for Veterans

Veterans facing the challenges of PTSD and addiction have the right to comprehensive care tailored to their specific needs. Various programs are available that offer a holistic approach to treatment, ensuring veterans receive the necessary support for recovery.

The Recovery Village's FORTITUDE Program for Veterans

For veterans seeking specialized care for mental health and substance use disorders, The Recovery Village presents the FORTITUDE program. This initiative caters specifically to veterans and first responders, offering tailored support groups and treatment options to address PTSD, depression, and addiction, guiding veterans toward a path of healing and recovery.

Sources

Schnurr, Paula. “Epidemiology and Impact of PTSD.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, August 9, 2023. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Ullrich, Phillip; Lutgendorf, Susan. “Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, August 2002. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Nevinski, Rebecca. “Self-expressive writing as a therapeutic intervention for veterans and family members.” Journal of Poetry Therapy, 2013. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Sayer, Nina, et al. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Online Expressive Writing to Address Readjustment Difficulties Among U.S. Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Mirgain, Shilagh; Singles, Janice. “Therapeutic Journaling.” VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2023.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Expressive writing shows some benefits for returning Vets.” November 3, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023.