Before Laurie Nadel, PhD, became a psychotherapist, she was a journalist
covering some of the world's political hot spots. Nadel eased the anxiety of
finding herself in volatile surroundings by writing -- not just for
publication, but also for herself. "I thought that if I could write
everything down, I could stay safe," she says now.
Later, through illnesses, divorce, and a series of events that
made her life look like a "bad country-western song," Nadel once again
wrote down her thoughts and fears. Five years after this bad patch ended, she
found one of those journals. "I realized when reading it that I had moved
through every one of my fears," says Nadel. "The journal showed me
where I had started from -- and just how much I had accomplished."
Antidepressants, especially when combined with talk therapy, generally help people recover from depression. Symptoms begin to improve within weeks for the majority of people taking antidepressants. And people who take antidepressants long-term -- up to 36 months -- have a relapse rate of only 18% compared to 40% for those who do not.
But if they work so well, why do so many people stop taking antidepressants within a few weeks of starting them? Or skip doses when they start to feel better?
Nadel, author of Zen and the Art of Windsurfing (not
surprisingly, written in the form of a journal), regularly suggests to her
clients that they keep a journal themselves. For people who are depressed, in a
crisis, or feel "stuck," journal- keeping is a way to gain insight into
their thoughts and feelings, says Nadel.
"Journaling allows you to dialogue with parts of your
psyche that are frozen in time," she says. "It allows you to tap into
deeper reserves of creativity and problem-solving. By keeping a journal, you
can get a flash of knowing and awareness that you haven't seen before."
According to Kathleen Adams, founder and director of The Center
for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colo., the difference between keeping a
traditional diary and keeping a journal is that in the former, you record daily
events and happenings, while in the latter, you focus on your reactions and
perceptions to those events.
"Journaling forces people to do something," says
Michael Rank, PhD, associate professor and co-director of the International
Traumatology Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
"Keeping a journal is a good way to start coping with
depression," agrees Jessie Gruman, PhD, executive director of the Center
for the Advancement of Health (www.cfah.org) in Washington. "It's not
aggressive, it's something you can do by yourself, and it gives you the chance
to see your feelings in black and white and then make plans to do something
Though keeping a journal is a simple thing to do, most people
resist it, says Rank. "For many people, writing is hard work, especially if
they're depressed," he says. "It's painful to write about bad
That said, Rank finds journaling the "most effective and
cheapest" form of self-help. "If you do it in earnest, and you work
through your resistance, you will improve," he says. If you really don't
like to write, Rank suggests recording your thoughts on a mini-cassette