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What’s in My Therapy Journal

What's in my journal - graphics of a notebook and a head with a tree growing inside

I’m not in therapy, but I do have a therapy journal filled with my favourite therapy concepts and tools (the notebook it lives in is from the lovely Candace at Revenge of Eve). In this post, I’ll share some of what it contains.

Therapy concepts

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is probably the best fit for how I relate to my mind and the world, but there are also bits and pieces from other therapeutic approaches that I find helpful or interesting.

Cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions are a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) concept. My journal contains a list of the ones that I’m most likely to do, as well as further explorations of my top five greatest hits and the situations in which I tend to lean into them.

I’ve also made note of the questions from the cognitive processing therapy (CPT) challenging questions worksheet that can help with challenging distorted thoughts.

Levels of thought

CBT identifies three levels of thought that can cause problems for us. On the surface layer is automatic negative thoughts that jump up and bite us in the nose in response to situations. Beneath those are underlying assumptions, which tend to take the form if… then… Below those are core beliefs, which are absolute beliefs about the self, others, and the world. Cognitive distortions show up on the automatic thoughts level, but there’s stuff underneath those thoughts that’s feeding into them.

Behaviour chain analysis

Behaviour chain analysis is a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) process for examining what contributed to a behaviour and the chain of events and consequences that followed, and then identifying more skillful solutions and a plan for prevention.

Wise mind

Wise mind is another DBT concept. We’re in wise mind when both reasonable mind and emotion mind are engaged. Wise mind is a good place to make decisions from.

ACT hexaflex model

I’m a big fan of ACT (including the metaphors), and the ACT hexaflex does a nice job of representing the elements of psychological flexibility: attention to the present moment, values, committed action, self-as-context, cognitive defusion, and acceptance.

ACT hexaflex representing the elements of psychological flexibility

ACT relationship acronyms

Unhealthy relationships are DRAINs:

  • Disconnection
  • Reactivity
  • Avoidance
  • Inside your mind
  • Neglecting values

Healthy relationships involve LOVE:

  • Letting go
  • Opening up
  • Valuing
  • Engaging

Self-awareness

Recognizing avoidance: I’ve written down prompt questions from a costs of avoidance and control worksheet I found. I’ve also made notes of some of my own avoidance behaviours. Avoidance is definitely a favourite maladaptive coping technique for me.

Recognizing triggers: I’ve worked on recognizing when my reactions to events aren’t actually in response to the events themselves, but rather to past events or other issues that have gotten stirred up.

Recognizing emotions: I’ve got a 2-page list of different emotion names. I find it’s easier to pick from a list than to pull an emotion name out of my ass to describe how I’m feeling.

Recognizing trauma cognitions: There were a lot of thoughts that popped up in response to experiencing workplace bullying a number of years ago. Those have mostly receded by now, but they still get triggered occasionally, and having them written down helps me to remember where they’re coming from.

Self-exploration

Skill-building

I’ve listed various skills I’m working on, such as:

  • minimizing the use of avoidance and other unhealthy ways of coping
  • unpacking where my reactions are coming from
  • owning my reactions
  • trying to recognize when I’m being irrational, and when I am, trying to decrease the amount of time I spent caught on the crazy train
  • trying to engage wise mind more often and more quickly

I’ve also made note of various DBT skills acronyms.

Other things in my toolbox

  • list of pleasant activities
  • list of cognitive, mindful, and behavioural activities that are soothing
  • reminders to practice self-compassion

So, that’s a quick overview of what lives in my therapy journal. What are some of the therapy-based concepts or tools that you use to support your own mental health?

The post Therapy Tools for Mental Health has more tools to support your mental health, and the Resources page has the Therapy Basics Toolbox, a downloadable mini-ebook.

25 thoughts on “What’s in My Therapy Journal”

  1. This is something I struggle with, and I think one of the very things my therapist is frustrated with me about. Sure, I’m decent at writing, but acknowledging and applying therapy tools is something I still have a hard time with. My therapist has suggested having a specific therapy notebook or folder specifically for tools and stuff to use, or to identify anything that’s ever helped, but I’ve always struggled with what to even put in it. Maybe I need to be more open and pull from some of these ideas.

  2. Yay!! I love that your journal is being put to good use. I haven’t done anything therapy related in awhile except when I went inpatient last August. Yours seems quite helpful. You are an amazing source for resource materials. I often peruse your sight in ah of the tools you make readily available for others. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

  3. I was *just* thinking of making a journal like this for myself called the “anti-spiral notebook” 😆 I’m one of those people who needs to write everything down or else I forget. That includes basic stuff like self-care and activities that keep me grounded.

  4. We journal in general. Our journal’s bookmark is always the feelings and needs lists from Nonviolent Communication. We see 3 different therapists and were seeing a dietician until insurance stopped covering it. Lately, all therapy has felt useful. Maybe that means inside people are engaged with it. They all seem to use cbt except our main therapist, whom we see twice per week. We don’t know what she uses! She listens and reflects and tries to get us to use our nvc. Basically, she is super supportive and compassionate. She doesn’t try to change us. She helps us process and we can be whatever and however we are 💕❤️

  5. This is something I want to create and every time I sit down for it, my kind draws a blank, I feel exhausted and I just give up again. Haven’t seen my MH coach in 5 weeks. She gave me assignments and I have done zip… Just felt so drained that I had no energy to out things she asked about to my booklet 😔 maybe I should keep trying more?
    Thank you for sharing! This was very insightful. 😊

  6. I like those ACT ideas. I don’t know much ACT. I think I will look into it more.

    I have some notecards with skills and checklists. I think my diary card is what I use the most regularly. If I fill it out thoroughly, that’s a pretty good overview of what’s going on in my life and what I’m feeling and what skills (DBT and otherwise) I’m using. I like the idea of a journal though. Everything in one place, like a summary. I think I’ll start one.

  7. Thanks for the resources, Ashley! I used to do this type of thing with kiddos as a coping skills toolbox with a bunch of their favorite things that they can use if they feel like they need it. I’ve used it, myself! But I love the idea of putting in different psychological concepts into a journal. I find it super helpful to be able to feel as well as rationalize how I’m feeling into psychological mechanisms. This would be a great way to do it!

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