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Writing Your Way Out of Depression

Dear Diary

WebMD Feature

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."

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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 about them."

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 feelings."

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 recorder.

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