Journaling as a Coping Mechanism for Veterans with PTSD

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Last Updated - 03/02/2024

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Updated 03/02/2024

The occurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is notably prevalent among veterans, especially those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports that about 15% of these veterans are currently grappling with PTSD, while approximately 29% have encountered it at some point in their lifetimes. This significant prevalence highlights the critical need for effective therapeutic interventions. Among various approaches, journaling has been identified as a profoundly beneficial tool, providing a self-reflective pathway for veterans to process their experiences and embark on a healing journey.

The Role of Journaling in PTSD Management

Journaling is esteemed in the mental health field for its utility in supporting individuals facing symptoms of mental health disorders, PTSD included. It acts as a reflective practice that facilitates the processing of traumatic events and stress reduction, essential components in the pathway to recovery. Research within the veteran community has shown that journaling can enhance emotional expression, bring clarity to personal challenges, and cultivate a sense of self-empowerment. For veterans experiencing the debilitating emotions associated with PTSD, journaling offers a transformative avenue for reshaping negative thought patterns and fostering the adoption of positive lifestyle changes.

Complementing Conventional Therapy with Journaling

Incorporating journaling into the therapeutic framework provides a comprehensive approach to managing PTSD among veterans. This adjunctive strategy enhances the therapeutic experience, allowing for ongoing personal reflection and the application of coping strategies outside of therapy sessions. Through journaling, veterans can maintain a dialogue with themselves, exploring their emotional depths, which in turn enriches their interactions with therapists and bolsters the healing process.

Guidelines for Starting a Journaling Practice

Initiating a journaling habit can appear daunting initially. However, adhering to a few simple guidelines can facilitate this process:

  • Identify a quiet, comfortable spot that encourages concentration and introspection for your journaling activities
  • Dedicate a consistent time for journaling, ideally 15–20 minutes, focusing on emotionally significant yet manageable topics
  • Embrace the privacy of the journaling process, prioritizing candid self-expression without concern for external opinions or perfect writing mechanics 
  • Be mindful of the emotional responses that may arise from journaling, understanding that such reactions are normal and typically temporary

Challenges in Journaling and Overcoming Them

Journaling, while immensely beneficial, may invoke emotional discomfort or challenges in articulating thoughts. Recognizing these emotions as part of the therapeutic journey and knowing when to seek additional support is essential. If journaling triggers intense emotional responses, reaching out for professional assistance or engaging in soothing activities is recommended.

Suggested Journaling Topics for Veterans

Veterans are encouraged to journal on a variety of topics, including:

  • Detailed recounts of traumatic or significant life events
  • The emotional journey through grief and loss
  • Accounts of resilience and overcoming difficult situations
  • Insights into deriving meaning from traumatic occurrences
  • The transition experience from military service to civilian life

Journaling serves as a potent medium for veterans to explore and express their innermost thoughts and emotions, facilitating a deeper understanding of their experiences.

Incorporating Journaling into a Holistic Treatment Plan

Journaling should be viewed as a supplementary tool within a broader therapeutic strategy, not as a replacement for professional mental health care. For veterans dealing with PTSD, the guidance and support of a mental health professional are invaluable for effectively integrating journaling into their overall treatment plan.

Specialized Care and Treatment for Veterans

Veterans facing the dual challenges of PTSD and addiction merit access to tailored treatment programs that address their specific needs, offering a comprehensive suite of services to aid in their recovery journey.

The FORTITUDE Program: Dedicated Support for Veterans

The FORTITUDE program at The Recovery Village is designed to meet the unique treatment needs of veterans and first responders, focusing on addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression. This program highlights the commitment to providing personalized care and support, ensuring veterans have the necessary resources to navigate their path toward recovery 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.


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