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Antidepressants remain one of the most widespread and effective treatments for depression, but for many people the idea of being on medication for the rest of their lives, and experiencing the side effects of being on antidepressants in the long term, leaves them searching for a viable alternative solution.

Research published in the Journal of Family Practice built on the concept that cognitive behavioural therapy was an effective treatment for depression, advising that this should be something that is included in the treatment plan of all patients with depression, including those patients that are also choosing to take anti-depressants. There are many holistic, medication-free, treatments for depression available, but it can be difficult to know what works, what to try, and where to start. The latest of these concepts is the concept of journaling to help control depression and understand its triggers. Journaling, as a form of cognitive behavioural therapy, has a proven track record in helping to treat those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and the benefits seen from those applications are now being applied to the treatment of other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. But what, exactly, is journaling? And how can it help?

What is Journaling?

Journaling is effectively writing your life down: this can include the details of your day, your thoughts and feelings surrounding any incidents that occurred, and reliving any moments that you may have struggled with. There are two key purposes to keeping a journal: firstly, journaling helps you to recapture fleeting moments and analyse how your processed them, giving you the insight you need to process how you react to events and to the world around you. Secondly, journaling is a key self-teaching tool, bringing clarity and helping you to see how changing your attitude to situations might have changed its outcome.

Many therapists will ask their clients to journal their week in order to identify patterns of difficult emotions, and key moments that are worth reassessment within the safe confines of the therapy session. However, if you would feel more comfortable writing a journal that no one ever sees (including your therapist) then there still remains huge value in this. Journaling provides you with a safe and private space to reflect and engage with yourself, and can be a very important part of taking the time out that you need to practice self-care.

How Can Journaling Help You

Individuals with depression tend to have regular negative thoughts both about themselves and their own behaviour, and about the world around them. This negatively impacts on the way they interact with others, which in term propagates more negative behaviour. Studies have shown that journaling can have a positive impact on the physical and mental health of individuals who have depression as well as those who do not, and can make psychotherapy considerably more effective: by forcing you to assess your interaction with the world around you, journaling can help you to make positive changes that will change your behaviour patterns. Journaling can help you to become more attuned to your thoughts and feelings, and when they become counterproductive or destructive it gives you a safe tool that you can use to assess this and turn it around.                   

There is no right or wrong way to journal: it can be something you do for an hour a day or for just ten minutes. What is important is that it is something you make a commitment to engage with regularly and that you keep it up: making journaling a part of your daily routine with give you regular access to its therapeutic benefits, and give you something to focus on when you are having a difficult day. It’s important to note that whilst non-drug therapies can certainly be very valuable, and can truly help to change and enrich the lives of those who are struggling with depression, they should not be used as a replacement for any prescribed antidepressants without consultation with your doctor. Evidence presented by the Pharmaceutical Journal suggests that anti-depressants remain the most effective treatment for depression, and you should never self-prescribe or change your treatment plan without a full assessment from a trained professional.

Article from Gemma Greenwood