|As we are writing this newsletter, the war in Iraq has begun. Regardless of your position about the war, you probably have some feelings about it. Some of you have family, friends, and acquaintances who are fighting in the Middle East. Under these circumstances it may be a valuable time to turn to journal writing, to sort out your thoughts and feelings about the war as well as soothe your frayed nerves.
Recently I visited Margie Davis’ website, https://www.writingtoheal.com and noticed that she had moved from the Boston area to Sarasota, Florida, a few miles away from Chronicles Software’s office. We had lunch, talked about journal writing, and I learned about her work with caregivers and cancer patients and survivors. Margie graciously agreed to do an interview for this newsletter and has generously shared some prompts. The prompts are in the interview below and also have been added to our prompt page,https://www.lifejournal.com/prompts.html.
This month we’re going to keep the survey that we posted last month available so that we can hear from more of you. We’ve only had about 40 people complete the questionnaire. I know that this a fairly lengthy survey, but your responses will certainly help improve the program. If you haven’t had a chance to respond and have used LifeJournal for at least one month, please take 10 minutes and fill out the survey form. Thank you for your time in completing the survey; I appreciate it.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
An Interview with Therapeutic Writing Instructor, Margie Davis
The LifeJournal Prompts Web Page
Tip: Swapping LifeJournal Prompts with a Group
How to Purchase LifeJournal
An Interview with Therapeutic Writing Instructor, Margie Davis
||What is therapeutic writing?
||Therapeutic writing means writing one’s deep thoughts and feelings about an upsetting event for the purpose of healing. This type of writing also goes by the names of expressive writing, reflective writing, and disclosive writing (because you disclose information).
||How does it differ from journaling?
||“Journaling” is an umbrella word that covers a lot of ground. People tend to think of “journaling” as writing about anything, e.g., what they did on their birthday, their dreams, lists of things to do. They may or may not include how they feel about what they did on their birthday or the thoughts that passed through their minds at the celebration. Research shows that when people focus on the facts but not on how the facts affect them, there is no therapeutic benefit.
||How did you get involved in therapeutic writing?
||I have taught personal essay writing since 1993. I knew from my own life and from leading others through writing exercises that writing about upsetting events had therapeutic value. When a close friend was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I knew that writing about her emotional experience with her aggressive medical treatment could help her cope. I had a vision for creating a therapeutic writing journal with prompting questions to give people with virtually any type of cancer a means of healing their emotional selves. With the help of medical and mental health professionals, I researched the psychosocial issues that cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers face.
My book, The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors, with over 60 writing exercises, was published in 2000. I began offering therapeutic writing courses and workshops to cancer patients and caregivers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Wellness Community, and other cancer clinics, support groups, and hospices. I added two of my courses, Writing About Cancer and Writing for Personal Caregivers, to my personal essay writing courses that I lead at my web site, https://www.writingtoheal.com.
||What therapeutic writing programs do you offer?
||Currently I lead courses for cancer patients and survivors, personal caregivers who care for an adult with a debilitating condition, health care professionals, and people in bereavement. I conduct live workshops (mostly in Florida), and at my web site I offer Writing About Cancer and Writing for Personal Caregivers. I license several courses that can be led at facilities. I also work one-on-one with people (live and by email) who want to address in writing specific emotional issues around loss, work, family, etc. Many of my clients write with me and then read their narratives to their psychotherapists. They find they can dig more deeply by writing than by talking.
||Can anyone do therapeutic writing?
||Virtually anyone can write for therapeutic benefit. You don’t have to be “a writer” to do this type of work. Punctuation doesn’t matter because you need to write without censoring yourself. As for spelling, I support LifeJournal’s help words, “While we encourage you not to be overly concerned with correct spelling in your journal, LifeJournal does offer automatic spell checking, which you can easily use if you like.”
Be aware that expressive writing by definition will bring up feelings. If these feelings seem overwhelming, I urge people to see a trained counselor who can help them cope.
||How can your book, The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors, and LifeJournal be used together?
||The two fit together like partners. Each writing exercise in The Healing Wayhas a brief topic, followed by prompting questions. A cancer patient/survivor can enter the exercise topic as the LifeJournal entry title, then type in the prompting question at the top of the entry and go on to respond to the questions.
||Do you have any therapeutic writing tips?
||Choose an upsetting event, something that happened that you still think about, that still bothers you. If you want to write but can’t identify what’s bothering you, take a shower or go for a drive or a walk. Your mind only partially engages in these activities and the rest of it is free to focus on nagging thoughts and recurring feelings. Then sit down at your LifeJournal and use these prompting questions to help you write:
- Where did it take place?
- Who was there?
- What happened?
- How did you feel?
- What has happened since (because of that event)?
- Looking back, what are your thoughts and feelings about what happened?
- What do you understand now that you didn’t understand then?
- What have you learned?
||Would you share some of your therapeutic writing prompts?
||Below are two sets of prompting questions – the first set for cancer patients and survivors and the second set for personal caregivers. (Depending on your stage of treatment, you might want to change the verb to past tense.) You can download either or both of these sets of prompts and then import them into your LifeJournal program by clicking on the links below. Read instructions for how to incorporate them into LifeJournal in the next article.
For cancer patients and survivors:
- What do you think about the treatments that your doctors have recommended? What do family members and friends think about these recommendations? What does your instinct tell you about each course of treatment?
- Describe the process of being radiated. Do you sense or imagine anything? What goes through your mind as you are being treated? How do you feel about having a tattoo on your skin?
- What concerns do you have about money or insurance? Do you have any worries about your ability to earn income? Do you worry about your family managing without you?
- What is more important than it used to be? What is less important? Have you changed your mind about what is important in life? Why?
- What good things have you experienced from being ill?
- How do you think your illness is affecting your siblings, parents, children or other family members? Do you interact differently with anyone? Does anyone treat you differently?
- Has your relationship with God or a higher power changed? Do you feel a need to reconnect with a place of worship?
- What does the presence of your pet mean to you now? Do you talk to your pet? How has your pet been a pal?
- What indignities have you had to put up with at the hospital? How do you feel when that happens?
- What or whom do you see in the mirror? Do you detect a change in your presence? Has your sense of yourself changed?
For personal caregivers:
- When you first became a caregiver, what preconceived notions, if any, did you have about that role? How have those thoughts changed over time?
- Do you take your loved one for medical appointments? What do you do while waiting for the appointments to be done? What thoughts cross your mind? Can you describe how medical treatments feel to the person in your care?
- What makes you happy? What gives you pleasure? Look all around you.
- What do you think you have control over? What do you think you don’t have control over?
- What do you wish you could say to the person in your care that you haven’t said?
- How do you and the person in your care celebrate special dates and happy occasions? If you and your loved one avoid these occasions, what do you find difficult about celebrating?
- If your loved one’s condition is hereditary and you are a close relative, what feelings does this condition bring up in you?
- Who has been especially kind to you? What have they done? How have you felt?
- What have you learned to live with? What have you learned to live without? How have these affected you?
- What have you learned so far from this caregiving experience? How have you changed?
- What could you say to someone who has just become a caregiver?
Margie Davis is a therapeutic writing instructor and author of The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors. This first-of-its-kind, beautifully-crafted workbook helps cancer patients and survivors express different aspects of their cancer experiences in writing for the purpose of emotional healing. Ms. Davis leads courses about therapeutic writing through her web site, https://www.writingtoheal.com.
The LifeJournal Prompts Web Page: https://www.lifejournal.com/prompts.html
As you know, the LifeJournal program includes approximately 250 prompts, divided into nine categories: family, feelings, finances, friends, health, home, self-discovery, spirituality, and work. If you go to our LifeJournal prompts page (https://www.lifejournal.com/prompts.html ), you will find about 200 new prompts and new categories, available to you at no cost.
The new Prompts Categories are:
- Life History: Your Early Years
- Snapshots of your Life
- Health, Healing, and Wellness
- Re-reading your Journal
- For Caregivers to the ill
- For Cancer Survivors
You can move the prompts from the website into your LifeJournal program in a two step process. First, you will download the prompt files, and second, you will import them into your journal. Remember after you download the prompts you will be able to open them only through the LifeJournal program.
To download any set of prompts, click on the Prompt Category topics listed on theprompts page. A dialog box will offer you the option of opening the file or saving it to the disk. Select save to disk. You will then choose a directory to save the downloaded file. (It doesn’t matter where you save the file as long as you remember in which directory you have saved it.)
To import the prompt sets into your journal, run the LifeJournal program. Go File menu>Import Prompts and Quotes and a dialog box appears confirming that you want to import custom quotes or prompts. Click the Yes button. Browse to the directory where you have downloaded the prompts (the file will have a “.ljpq” format) and click the Open button.
Now open the Prompts feature by clicking the circular button with the light bulb icon. Select the new category in the list and click the OK button and the prompts will appear.
Tip: Swapping LifeJournal Prompts Among Group Members
You can export as well as import prompts–letting you swap prompts with anyone who has the LifeJournal program. Teachers and students in classes, and group leaders and participants for book discussions, therapy sessions, journal or writing workshops, religious or spiritual meetings, and health support groups would benefit by easy distribution of a set of prompts prior to a meeting. Each member would be able to download and import the prompts into LifeJournal, insert them into journal entries, and have a secure place to reflect and write before gathering as a group.
Below are instructions to creating and exporting a set of prompts. (Please read the full set of instructions before proceeding.)
To create the prompts:
- Choose a name or category for your prompts. Go to the Features menu>Prompts>Customize Categories. Type the name of the new category in the text box and click Add New. The new category will be shown in the list above. Click the Close button.
- Go the Features menu> Prompts>Customize
- Select the new prompt category in the dropdown box in the center of the dialog box.
- Type in the new prompt in the text box and click the Add Prompt to Selected Category button. You may repeat this as many times as you have new prompts to add.
- When you are finished adding prompts, click the Close button.
- You may want to check that the new prompts are available by opening the prompt feature, finding and selecting the new category, and clicking the OKbutton.
Note that when you export the prompts, you will export ALL of your customized prompts, prompt categories, and quotes. If don’t want to distribute all of your customized prompts and quotes, we recommend that you create a fictitious journal writer in whose files you create those sets of prompts that you want to export. (I call my fictitious journal writer, Only New Prompts.) (To add a journal writer, close the program. At the login screen click the drop down arrow to the right of the journal writer’s name, and select Add Writer. Follow the instructions above for creating prompts.)
When you create the prompts within the fictitious journal writer and want to have these new prompts available in your usual Journal Writer’s journal, remember to export the customized prompts from the Only New Prompts’ journal, as detailed below. Then close the LifeJournal program, and re-open it and log in as your usual journal writer. You can then import the new prompts that you created. (Go to File menu>Import Customized Prompts and Quotes and navigate to the exported file.)
To export the prompts:
- With the prompts feature closed, go to the File menu>Export Custom Prompts and Quotes.
- A dialog box explains that ALL of the customized prompts, prompt categories, and quotes will be exported, asking you to confirm to proceed. Click Yes.
- Create a name for the file and browse to a location that you want to save the exported file. Remember the location where you chose to save it. (The file has a “.ljpq” extension.)
- A dialog appears asking you if you want to use the directory you just chose to save the exported custom prompts and quotes as the default directory for future exported files. Choose yes or no, as you wish.
- You can make the file available to multiple people by uploading it to a web page or sending out the file as an email attachment.
If any of you would like to contribute a set of prompts to post on our website, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always open to sharing journal resources on our website.
Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.
How to Purchase LifeJournal
- Order online at https://www.lifejournal.com/ordering.html
- “Order by telephone: toll free 1–877–456–8762 from 9 am to 5 pm EST, Monday through Friday.
- Order by postal mail and pay with a check or money order payable to:Chronicles Software Company
PO Box 220
Sarasota, FL 34230
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