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Journaling: A Pathway to Healing for Veterans with PTSD

Last Updated: March 2, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

The impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans, particularly those who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, is substantial. Data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs reveals that 15% are currently navigating the challenges of PTSD, with nearly 29% having encountered these challenges at some point in their lives. Against this backdrop, identifying and deploying effective therapeutic interventions is paramount. Journaling emerges as a critical tool, providing veterans with a self-directed means of processing and healing from the psychological wounds of PTSD.

The Value of Journaling in the Context of PTSD

Within the spectrum of mental health care, journaling is lauded for its effectiveness in aiding individuals with mental health disorders, PTSD included. This practice offers a reflective space for individuals to process their experiences of trauma and manage stress. Research focused on veterans underscores the benefits of journaling, highlighting its role in enhancing emotional expression, bringing personal challenges to light, and fostering an environment of empowerment. For veterans engulfed in the complex emotions associated with PTSD, journaling acts as a transformative practice, enabling the reconfiguration of thought processes and promoting positive change.

Complementing Therapy Through Journaling

Incorporating journaling into the therapeutic journey of veterans with PTSD adds a valuable dimension to their recovery process. It extends the benefits of traditional therapy by providing a medium for continuous personal exploration and application of coping strategies outside therapy sessions. This method of reflective writing assists in managing symptoms, offering a solitary yet constructive space for veterans to delve into their emotional depths. This, in turn, prepares veterans to have more meaningful interactions during therapy sessions. 

Starting a Journaling Practice: Insights for Veterans

Beginning journaling can seem overwhelming in the initial stages. To ease into this therapeutic practice, consider the following guidelines:

  • Identify a serene space dedicated to journaling, conducive to deep reflection and free from distractions
  • Commit to a consistent writing schedule, allocating 15–20 minutes to journal about topics that resonate emotionally yet are within your capacity to confront
  • Approach journaling as a private exercise, focused on unbridled self-expression without concern for external judgment or perfect writing mechanics 
  • Recognize that feelings of discomfort may surface post-journaling, but these are typically temporary and part of the therapeutic process

Addressing the Challenges of Journaling

Journaling, while beneficial, may present challenges such as initial emotional discomfort or hesitancy in expressing thoughts. Understanding these as manageable aspects of the healing journey, and knowing when to seek further support or engage in soothing activities, is key. Should journaling evoke intense emotions, professional guidance or calming practices should be sought to navigate these feelings.

Journaling Themes to Explore

Veterans are invited to journal on a wide array of topics, including:

  • Reflective pieces on traumatic or significant events
  • Expressions of grief and the journey through loss
  • Stories of resilience and strength in adversity
  • Insights into deriving meaning from traumatic experiences
  • Reflections on the transition from military to civilian life

Journaling as an Aid, Not a Replacement for Therapy

It’s important to view journaling as an adjunctive tool in the broader context of mental health care, supplementing but not substituting professional therapy. For veterans experiencing PTSD symptoms, the support of a mental health professional is crucial in effectively incorporating journaling into their recovery strategy.

Tailored Treatment for Veterans

Veterans facing the dual challenges of PTSD and addiction deserve comprehensive treatment plans that address their unique needs, incorporating individual therapy, medication management, and community support.

The FORTITUDE Program: Specialized Care for Veterans

The Recovery Village offers the FORTITUDE program, designed with veterans and first responders in mind. This initiative focuses on treating addiction and co-occurring mental health issues like PTSD and depression, providing a suite of services aimed at supporting veterans through a tailored approach to recovery.


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.