It really sounds very similar, doesn't it? I know I've felt for a long time that many psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to rely too much on what you might call inappropriate psychological technologies— ways of taking over diagnosing and controlling psychological problems with drugs or electroshock or whatever. I think good therapy is very often more a matter of helping someone who's stuck get unstuck. I think people are much more capable of guiding their own efforts to get unstuck than we've given them credit for.
Has the Journal been used with people in mental hospitals?
I had never thought the Journal could be used by very disturbed people, but we've had a most interesting experience using it in this way at St. Luke's Hospital in Phoenix. They had about thirty or thirty-five psychiatric patients on their acute crisis ward, and they invited me in to do three short workshops. The were open to everyone on the ward, no matter how disturbed. It was very interesting.
There were people there who hadn't spoken in as long as they'd been there, they were diagnosed as catatonic. I gave them the stepping-stones to do and they did them and read them out loud. Two young guys were there as depressives. After the workshops I was walking through the ward with the head nurse. She said to them, "Hello, how are you?" And they said, "Fine," and gave us a big smile. She turned to me and said, "Those two fellows haven't smiled or done more than grunt in the two days they've been here."
Word came back to me later that the senior psychiatrist, who specializes in electroshock, said he would not have believed it possible for so many seriously disturbed people, with no restrictions, to experience nothing negative and so much that was positive and integrating.
So we've been following that up by starting a program to train some of their people to teach the Journal on the ward, and then to have programs available in the community so people can continue after they're re-leased.
What could you say about the Journal as a possible tool for our readers to use in their own lives? Who might find it useful? What would it be useful for? How could they go about giving it a try?
You can learn to use the Journal either from a workshop or from my book, At a Journal Workshop. The first exercise, the Period Log, is designed to give you a kind of overview of your life, with particular attention to the most recent period of your life. It might be a good introduction to do that exercise and see if it feels like a way of working that is right for you.
As to what the Journal is useful for, I like to describe it as an instrument—in two senses. First, it's an instrument like a hammer or a scalpel—a tool to help you deal with difficult times in your life, times of change or decision or loss, or great success for that matter.
But it's also an instrument in the way that a piano or violin is an instrument. Working in the Journal can be a fulfilling experience in its own right, an art form if you like. It's something you can do just for the pure pleasure of it. You can play with it. Improvise.
Do you recommend that people write in their Journal every day?
It's entirely up to the individual. A few people keep it every day. It's not like keeping a diary. It's something that's there for you when you want it, when you need it. It's more like "Gee I'll think I'll get my guitar out and play a little." It's definitely not supposed to be another responsibility to feel guilty about.