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Empowering Veterans Through Journaling: A Path to Healing from PTSD

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 03/02/2024

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Updated 03/02/2024

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has highlighted a significant incidence of PTSD among veterans of recent conflicts, with 15% currently experiencing PTSD and an additional 29% having faced it at some point. This underlines the pressing need for accessible and effective therapeutic strategies. Journaling emerges as a powerful self-help tool, offering veterans a meaningful avenue for emotional expression and psychological healing in the face of PTSD.

The Healing Attributes of Journaling for PTSD

Journaling is recognized for its therapeutic potential in mental health care, particularly for those navigating the aftermath of PTSD. It facilitates a process of reflection and emotional processing, crucial for the trauma recovery journey. Research focused on veterans has illustrated the benefits of journaling, including the enhancement of emotional expression, identification of personal challenges, and the fostering of self-empowerment. For veterans living with distressing emotions tied to PTSD, journaling acts as a catalyst for cognitive transformation and the initiation of positive life changes.

Enhancing Therapy with Journaling Practices

When journaling is paired with conventional therapy, it becomes a potent adjunct tool for veterans with PTSD, enriching the healing process beyond traditional therapy sessions. This combination allows individuals to explore and process their emotions through writing, applying therapeutic insights in a personal context, and subsequently discussing these reflections in therapy sessions.

Journaling not only aids in managing symptoms but also offers a private medium for veterans to confront and navigate their emotions, preparing them to have more meaningful conversations with a therapist. 

Initiating Journaling: Practical Tips for Veterans

Beginning a journaling routine can appear daunting; however, certain strategies can facilitate this initiation:

  • Designate a tranquil space for journaling, ensuring a distraction-free environment conducive to writing
  • Commit to a routine writing schedule, ideally dedicating 15–20 minutes to reflect on emotionally resonant yet manageable topics
  • Embrace the personal nature of your journal, focusing on self-expression without concern for external judgment or perfect grammar 
  • Anticipate strong emotional responses post-journaling, recognizing them as part of the therapeutic process

Challenges and Solutions in Journaling

While journaling is profoundly beneficial, it may initially evoke emotional discomfort or writer’s block. Recognizing these challenges as temporary and manageable through self-care and professional support is essential. If journaling triggers intense emotions, seeking immediate support from a mental health professional or engaging in calming activities is advisable.

Journaling Themes for Veterans

Veterans are encouraged to explore a variety of topics in their journals, including:

  • Personal accounts of traumatic or stressful experiences
  • Expressions of grief and loss
  • Reflections on resilience and strength
  • Insights into deriving meaning from traumatic events
  • Experiences related to the transition from military to civilian life

Journaling serves as a personal exploration tool, guiding veterans to engage with their deepest thoughts and emotions.

Broadening the Impact of Journaling

Journaling’s benefits extend beyond PTSD symptom management, proving effective in addressing depression, anxiety, and the emotional challenges associated with life transitions and loss.

Journaling: A Complementary, Not Alternative, Therapy

It’s crucial to recognize journaling as a supportive, not substitutive, form of therapy. Especially for those dealing with PTSD, professional guidance ensures that journaling is integrated effectively into a comprehensive treatment strategy.

Veteran-Specific Treatment Opportunities

Veterans dealing with the dual challenges of PTSD and addiction have the right to specialized treatment tailored to their unique circumstances. Dedicated programs offer an array of support services, from individual therapy to medication management and group support, aimed at facilitating recovery.

The FORTITUDE Specialty Program at The Recovery Village

The Recovery Village introduces the FORTITUDE program, designed to meet the specific mental health and addiction treatment needs of veterans and first responders. This program emphasizes a holistic treatment approach, offering specialized support groups and therapeutic options for those coping with PTSD, depression, and addiction, affirming the commitment to providing veterans with the comprehensive care they deserve on their journey toward healing.

View 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.