“Why write a journal?” This was the questioned posed by Beverly Fryman, a Journal to the Self instructor who runs workshops and courses on creative journal writing. Our answers were varied: we might write for expression; for companionship; as a record for the future or for sanctuary. The journal might be a place where we process our feelings, come to terms with difficult events, or commemorate happy times. It allows us to have a conversation with ourselves, one we might never allow ourselves to have with others. It can be “top secret” and hidden away, or an object to share with children and partners. It might be a silent witness or a mirror to the self. It might take the shape of a simple notebook or a colourful scrapbook with images alongside the words. The lack of a single format or a single function allows it to be whatever we need it to be at the time. In keeping with the idea of unlimited possibility, Beverly asked us to think about the word “freedom” for the art making part of the meeting, and the work produced was playful and colourful.

Image by Gary Nash

While therapeutic writing is not a registered creative therapy like art, music or dance & movement therapy, Beverly emphasised the benefits inherent in encouraging our clients to express themselves through writing, either alone or in groups. We discussed the ways some of us have written diaries and journals as a way to understand the world around us, especially while growing up; it is a place where everything is allowed, much like the idea of freedom explored through our images.

With an MA in creative writing and her other role as a bereavement counsellor, Beverly uses her skills and knowledge to encourage clients and professionals to use creative journal writing, to be in touch with their inner selves and express difficult thoughts and feelings in a safe way. Beverly gave us two brief writing exercises, and we were surprised by the depth of content which can emerge in only five or seven minutes; for some of us, it was difficult to stop and the content of the writing was unexpectedly raw, in some cases even too personal to share. While the process of tuning in and engaging in a creative way to express ourselves is not new to us as art therapists, there are different ways to process emotions. Image-making and writing might engage different aspects of the ways we understand and experience the world, and both can be powerful and beneficial.

We finished the session with a demonstration by Kim Davies, a Transpersonal Arts in Therapy trainee at Tobias School of Art & Therapy who works as an intern and administrator at the London Art Therapy Centre. Kim shared a collection of journals she had been writing since childhood; she is interested in exploring the therapeutic value of journalling and how this act can be useful in the art therapy process. With a combination of images and writing, these aesthetic, expressive and multi-layered objects are inviting and intriguing, while creating a voyeuristic sense of witnessing something private and precious. Kim, who had shown the journals as part of the London Art Therapy Centre’s practitioners exhibition, explained that her intention was to create a dialogue between the public and the private, hopefully encouraging viewers to engage in their own journal writing.

Image by Kim Davies

The experience of looking at another person’s journals led us back to a question raised at the beginning of the session: are social media websites, like Facebook, a modern-day version of a journal? In a sense, they allow us to document our lives and keep a record of meaningful events; yet we seem to be ever more conscious of portraying certain “acceptable” aspects of ourselves in the virtual realm, constructing a narrative through smiling pictures and censoring other, more difficult realities. In a world where our private lives are more exposed than ever before, it might be even more crucial to have a safe space, where all emotions and experiences are acceptable and where we have freedom to be who we are, instead of who we think we ought to be.

Further reading
On creative journal writing:
Beverly mentioned Gillie Bolton, who had written extensively on this topic. She also recommended The Journal to the Self by Kathleen Adams and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. French Milk by Lucy Knisley is an example of a published journal.

Beverly’s website: http://creativejournalwriting.com

Posted by Nili Sigal, art therapist &
clinical meetings coordinator

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