Guest Post from Mental Health @ Home: “My Therapy Journal”

Today, I’m excited to share a guest post from my friend, Ashley Peterson. Ashley is a mental health nurse. She’s also a mental health blogger at Mental Health @ Home.  She recently published her second book, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis. Today, she’s sharing about the unique ways that she tends to her mental health.

While unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck finding a therapist that I’ve had a good rapport with, that hasn’t turned me off the idea of therapy at all.  Instead, I’ve put my knowledge as a mental health nurse to work, picking and choosing bits and pieces from different therapeutic approaches so that I can do my own work based on what resonates with me the most.

An important part of that is my therapy journal.  It’s a combination of toolbox and therapy manual, and it helps to keep me on track and gives me good reminders when I’m starting to flounder.  While I’ve got a separate journal that I use for everyday tracking, my therapy journal is super-focused.

Cognitive distortions, a key concept in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), make an appearance right at the beginning of my journal, along with notes around which ones I use most often and how I use them.  Mind-reading is one that tends to come up over and over – I think that based on people’s responses I can tell what they’re thinking.  By keeping track of the situations in which I do this, I’ve gained a lot of insight into my usual patterns.  I’ve also got a page full of some pretty strongly ingrained distorted cognitions related to trauma, and I’m gradually working on chipping away at those.

In my journal I’ve paired cognitive distortions up with the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) concept of psychological smog.  The “if onlys”, the reason-giving, the “I know why’s” that make up psychological smog all act as fuel for the cognitive distortion fire, and it’s a good prompt to add another layer when I’m considering my distorted cognitions.

I’m an avoider.  It’s a strategy that has served me well at certain times, but at other times it’s much more problematic.  Ideas from ACT have been helpful for me in conceptualizing this and recognizing how many problems avoidance is actually creating for me.  I’m pretty good at recognizing my avoidance after the fact, but I’m working on calling myself out on it earlier on so I can shift gears.  

From dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the importance of validation really stands out for me.  I’ve often felt invalidated by people who have legitimately tried to support me, as it can feel like they’re minimizing the legitimate challenges I’m facing.  By reflecting on this, I’ve developed a much greater understanding of why I react the way I do, and I’m better able to realize that people weren’t intentionally trying to hurt me after all.

Another idea from DBT that I find useful is that we tend to have certain myths about emotions.  As a result, we judge the emotions that we’re experiencing and determine responses accordingly.  This has helped me to recognize my own strong emotion myth, that when emotions are too strong I need to hide.  Obviously that’s not true, but recognizing it was an important step towards making changes.

From compassion-focused therapy, I like the idea that practicing self-compassion can boost what’s referred to as the “soothing and contentment system”, and this can help to tone down the “threat and self-protection system”.  It’s not necessarily that novel a concept but framed in that way it makes a lot of sense to me and is a motivating factor to be more self-compassionate.

I like that there are so many diverse approaches to therapy because it really does mean that there’s going to be something that resonates with everyone.  Combine that with a good therapeutic relationship and there’s tremendous potential for positive change.

Thanks so much, Ashley, for taking the time to share your insights with our readers. I might give therapy journaling a try for myself!  Be sure to check out my review of Ashley’s new book, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

Thanks for reading!

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8 thoughts on “Guest Post from Mental Health @ Home: “My Therapy Journal””

  1. Christopher Guy Bremicker says:

    I think Ashley can’t see the forest from the trees. I had a psychologist who told me once it was impossible to shrink yourself. On that basis, I would be leery of using a therapy journal. Is it different from journaling? Journaling helps many people. I like to write short stories to help me process my life. I think there’s a tendency to get bogged down in different approaches. I’m trained in Cognitive Therapy. It came in handy at one time but I do not use it now, to my knowledge. The VA recommends “Catch it, check it, change it,” to double check one’s own thinking. Is what you are thinking real or are you nuts? I started a book about ACT but could not make heads or tails of it. Like all of us, if it helps Ashley, all the better. These days, I use a walk around the block or a handball game to clear my thinking. A talk with a friend helps, too. In a pinch, I’ll call my psychologist.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Christopher. Having known Ashley for a few years, I can understand her rationale for being leery of traditional therapy, which is why I was excited to share her perspective. Take care!

  2. I am a huge fan of Ashley. She was the one that got me started on my own therapy journaling. I have it broken in so many categories in which has helped me communicate better with my psychiatrist.
    I myself stopped seeing a therapist after four years, this past August.
    I have found that by reading several mental health blogs as well as writing one, has assisted me in my overall mental well being.
    Ashley, by far is one of the best mental health blogs I have read. I have learned so much from her.
    This was a great post!!!

    1. Thanks for reading, Beckie! I agree with all the kind words about Ashley, she’s a mental health warrior! Writing about mental health is also a big self-care task for me in addition to attending therapy, yoga, meditation, and exercise. That’s the beauty of mental health, we are all unique so different things work for us. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    2. Ashley says:

      Thanks Beckie!

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