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Exploring Journaling as a Therapeutic Strategy for Veterans Experiencing PTSD

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 03/03/2024

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Updated 03/03/2024

The prevalence of PTSD among veterans, particularly those who have served in operations such as Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, is alarmingly high. According to statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 15% of these individuals are currently managing PTSD, while 29% have faced it at some point in their life. This reality underscores the critical importance of deploying effective and accessible therapeutic strategies for veterans. Journaling, in this context, emerges as an invaluable tool, offering veterans a means to navigate through their psychological challenges and foster a journey toward healing.

Enhancing PTSD Recovery through Journaling

Journaling has garnered acclaim within the mental health community for its effectiveness in supporting individuals with various mental health conditions, PTSD among them. This reflective practice enables the processing of traumatic experiences and stress, playing a vital role in the healing process. Research focusing on the veteran population points to journaling’s ability to promote emotional expression, illuminate personal struggles, and engender a sense of empowerment. For veterans enmeshed in the difficult emotions associated with PTSD, journaling serves as a vital step towards altering negative thought patterns and embarking on positive life changes.

Journaling in Conjunction with Traditional Therapy

For veterans with PTSD, integrating journaling into their therapeutic regimen offers a multifaceted approach to healing. This practice not only supplements the benefits derived from therapy sessions but also provides a continuous platform for emotional exploration and the application of newly learned coping strategies. Journaling thus becomes a bridge, extending the therapeutic dialogue beyond the therapist’s office and into the veteran’s personal space, allowing for a deeper introspective journey. This, in turn, facilitates meaningful discussion during therapy sessions. 

Initiating a Journaling Routine: Guidelines for Veterans

For those new to journaling, the prospect may seem daunting. However, a few practical steps can help ease this initiation:

  • Select a quiet and comfortable space dedicated to your journaling, free from distractions
  • Establish a regular journaling schedule, aiming for 15–20 minutes of focused writing on subjects that stir emotional resonance yet are manageable
  • Keep the process private, focusing on honest self-reflection rather than external validation or grammatical correctness
  • Prepare for potential emotional unrest following journaling sessions, recognizing such responses as a natural aspect of the healing journey

Navigating Journaling’s Emotional Terrain

While journaling is profoundly beneficial, it may initially provoke emotional discomfort or evoke a sense of vulnerability in expressing oneself. Recognizing these feelings as temporary and part of the therapeutic process is crucial. Should journaling unearth overwhelming emotions, it’s vital to seek support from mental health professionals or turn to comforting activities, like exercise or meditation, to mitigate these reactions.

Diverse Topics for Veteran Journaling

Veterans are encouraged to explore a wide range of journaling topics, such as:

  • Personal accounts of traumatic experiences
  • Expressions of grief and narratives of loss
  • Reflections on resilience and triumph over adversity
  • Contemplations on finding meaning in traumatic events
  • Experiences related to transitioning from military to civilian life

Journaling serves as a powerful medium for self-discovery, offering veterans a channel to express their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Journaling’s Role Within a Comprehensive Therapy Plan

It is essential to view journaling as a complementary element to professional therapy, not a standalone solution. Especially for veterans grappling with PTSD symptoms, professional input is crucial to navigating the complexities of their experiences and integrating journaling into a holistic treatment approach effectively.

Customized Care for Veterans

Veterans contending with PTSD and addiction have the right to access specialized treatment programs designed to meet their specific needs. These programs should offer a comprehensive array of services, including but not limited to individual therapy, medication management, and peer support, to facilitate a path towards recovery.

FORTITUDE Program: Targeted Support for Veterans

The Recovery Village’s FORTITUDE program caters specifically to veterans and first responders, focusing on treating addiction alongside co-occurring mental health issues such as PTSD and depression. This initiative underscores the importance of a personalized approach to treatment, ensuring veterans receive the dedicated care and support necessary to navigate their recovery journey effectively.

View Sources

Schnurr, Paula. “Epidemiology and Impact of PTSD.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, August 9, 2023. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Ullrich, Phillip; Lutgendorf, Susan. “Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, August 2002. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Nevinski, Rebecca. “Self-expressive writing as a therapeutic intervention for veterans and family members.” Journal of Poetry Therapy, 2013. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Sayer, Nina, et al. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Online Expressive Writing to Address Readjustment Difficulties Among U.S. Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Mirgain, Shilagh; Singles, Janice. “Therapeutic Journaling.” VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2023.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Expressive writing shows some benefits for returning Vets.” November 3, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023.