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The Way of the JournalReview - The Way of the Journal
A Journal Therapy Workbook for Healing
by Kathleen Adams
Sidran Press, 1998
Review by Margo McPhillips
May 16th 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 20)

As an inveterate journaler, current and veteran therapy client and former instructional designer, I wanted so badly to like this book but I just couldn’t. I found the book ill-conceived, poorly organized and condescending. The author wanted too much in too little space with no practical organization.

On the surface, the idea of writing a "journal therapy workbook" for both therapist and client is laudable but not practical. You end up with page one’s title, "Jump-Starting The Journal: The Developmental Continuum of Journal Therapy". The division between who’s supposed to be reading what, is very unclear and the actual journal keeping doesn’t start until page 15 of this mere 84 page, single-sided book. There’s another fifteen pages in the back of the book which contains an unholy mix of therapist/client material, undelineated. The journal gets neither jump-started nor is the "developmental continuum" properly honored.

There’s a "contract" on page 9 where the journaler is asked to commit to using the journal to help him- or herself but this is before he or she has started the journal.  One can’t know at that stage if one will be able to finish this new experience, but here Adams is trying to commit one to a course of action and make it look like the commitment is one's own. I find that manipulative. Page 14 is a piece of paper eleven year olds have grown beyond, a single page:

"STOP! This is the personal journal of… Do not read any further unless you have been given permission."
At least my diary when I was eleven had a lock on it! What is the teaching or therapy principle here? To trust a piece of paper when your heart doesn’t trust an actual, real person? If one has reason not to trust someone or even just doesn’t want to give ones trust yet, then being asked to use a piece of paper in this fashion is magical thinking on the therapist’s part at best and confirmation that one's feelings are not to be trusted at worst. Were I a therapist reading that page, I would not continue with the book or consider it as a possible adjunct to therapy. Were my therapist to express the wish to use this book with me, I’d start searching for another therapist.

The other major flaw besides trying to make the book both for therapist and client use is trying to use the book to both teach journaling and also be therapy.

One of the first things I was taught as an instructional designer was "beginning learners don’t need choices". When teaching a child arithmetic, or any other subject, you don’t start out teaching them five methods to learn to add two and two. This book tries to teach not just one or two journaling methods, but ten! Furthermore, Adams spends pages establishing "rules" and then telling the reader how there are no rules in journaling. How can the reader "trust" her when she uses such obvious paradoxes and inconsistencies?

She spends many pages telling the reader that the therapeutic structure of the workbook will keep him or her safe.  She is right, but only because that’s all this workbook contains: structure.  There’s neither much therapy nor journaling here. This seems to me to be poor or charlatan psychology; how can I feel safe if the author keeps harping on how safe I should feel, when I haven’t had an opportunity to be anxious yet? Of course I’m going to start to feel anxious and frightened if some "expert" keeps harping on how it’s all okay and I’m safe. Safe from what? At this stage, I haven’t "learned" to journal yet so don’t know that writing can raise scary issues in a way I may not have experienced before. Telling me, "Here, hold this glass of water I’m giving you and throw it over yourself when you catch fire"… whatever I’m contemplating doing (or, in this case, have signed a contract to do) I’m going to move away from. I’d really need therapy if I stayed and were feeling safe and grateful that I might not get too badly burned!

Writing of any sort can trigger intense feelings about personal issues. Writing this review did for me. But I’ll take the first draft to my therapist this week and she and I will work with that. There’s nothing special about books and journals or exclusive about their use in therapy; they’re just tools. Any writing discussed with any good therapist can bring wonderful results. I wasn’t taught or forced to start journaling and I was "alone" when I did so. Now I’m no longer alone. The quality of the healing is not in the tools I use but in my relationship with another human being who cares for me, my therapist.
 

Margo McPhillips is a current client of mental health services, an avid reader and participant in MHN's support forums, works for a large civil engineering firm in Baltimore, Maryland, and enjoys volunteering for local public library systems. Happily married for nearly 10 years to a computer design engineer with three grown sons, she and her husband enjoy camping and race horse handicapping.


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