Can prayer journaling help you to process trauma?

In my previous post I have promised to continue writing about what I think everybody should know about prayer journaling, and here is number two on my list: creative writing is increasingly becoming a go-to method for trauma recovery. It’s possible to access healing and restoration from traumatic experiences and grief, through journaling.

Can prayer journaling help with processing a traumatic event? It has certainly helped me and I wanted to know why.

I have found several research suggesting that creative or expressive writing does not only help people trying to cope with stress and heal from trauma, but it strengthens the immune system and it may also offer benefits to people battling with terminal or life-threatening diseases. (To learn more about this, click here.)

Dr. James Pennebaker (Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin)is a leading thinker on the impact expressive writing has on our physical and emotional well-being. Since the 1980s, he has measured the outcomes of creative writing and discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better sleep habits
  • Improved mental health
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

What I found particularly interesting is that most research examining the health benefits of writing come to similar conclusion, telling us that the magic is not in the pen and the paper, but in the mind searching for meaning in past events or present emotions. Writing is only a tool to help the mind create order and structure from chaos.

The goal of expressive writing is to create a meaningful story out of the chaotic events of our lives and the different emotions these events trigger in us. Well practiced creative writing helps the writer to switch perspective and to see themselves and what has happened to them in a different way. This shift is especially important when it comes to healing from trauma.

“Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to stand back and reevaluate issues in our lives.”

Dr. James Pennebaker

Essentially, it’s not the writing itself that has the health benefits but it is an effective tool we can use to make progress in our healing journey. Writing is not the only tool, but it is a brilliant one. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous post, it is free, accessible to anyone, it can be done anytime and anywhere, alone or with a community, so why wouldn’t we give it a go?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

All the research I have found were done on the benefits of expressive writing and while prayer journaling is using the same methodology, I realize that they are not one and the same. I would like to suggest that prayer journaling might be even more effective than creative writing on its own, for many reasons.

In my opinion, prayer journaling takes creative writing to the next level. In prayer journaling, it’s not only the different benefits of writing we can access, but at the same time we access all the blessings and healing power of God’s presence. As we look for meaning in our past and life events we are not dependent on our own wisdom, we don’t have to come up with our own solution or our own way to reframe the past. But we can rely on the wisdom of God’s Word. As engage with God in prayer and through his Word, we can start to find meaning and purpose with his help and guidance. Prayer is the safest place to open up our hearts and start to process our emotions and difficult life events in the presence of God.

I have learnt to find meaning in my past by noticing how God was with me then in the middle of it all. I find hope and purpose by finding out how God can use even the most painful events of my life to shape me and refine me. As I journal my prayers, and I see my thoughts and emotions taking shape, at the same time I see how God gives me beauty for ashes, and fulfills his ancient promise to bless me and to make me and my story a blessing to others.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

This doesn’t happen over night, it is more like a life long learning process. But through prayer journaling I feel more equipped and empowered to deal with stress and to heal from trauma. Starting to journal your prayers might just be the thing you need to help you in your own healing journey.

Love, Mariann

Published by Mariann Gilicze

I am a Hungarian-born theologian, minister and Bible teacher living in Northern Ireland. I inspire people to discover more about faith and life in Jesus Christ through creative writing and the transforming power of prayer journaling.

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