4 Practices to Bring Journaling into Your Workshops & Groups | by Lynda Monk MSW, RSW, CPCC

Writing Alone Together: The Benefits of Journal Writing in Workshops & Groups

Journaling is one of my favourite activities to bring into my workshops, training programs and group coaching. Whether done on our own or in groups with others, expressive journal writing can be healing, creative and transformational. And while we may write alone, journal writing is relational by nature, supporting us to deepen our relationship with ourselves, others and the world.

In particular, writing then sharing with others can help build community/teams, create engagement, foster connection, increase resiliency, fuel creativity, enhance learning and deepen compassion for self and others.

If you want to bring journaling and writing into your transformative work as a coach, educator and/or change agent, read on to learn more about integrating journaling into your workshops and group coaching.

Journaling in a Group: An 8 Year Journey

I was in a long-term journaling group with two other women. Over the course of eight years, we slowly and experientially developed what emerged as the four practices of what we called Writing Alone Together [1]. Through a process of creative inquiry, writing, connecting, learning and growing, we discovered how to powerfully bring journaling (typically regarded as a personal and private experience) into community and groups.

We eventually co-authored a book called Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection which is part memoir, part writing practice and part inspiration. It is from these experiences that I share the following practices.

First, here are 3 Tips for Using Journaling in Groups

  1. Know your "Why?": Ask yourself, "What do I hope to accomplish by integrating journaling into my workshop or group coaching program?" Understanding your goals for integrating journaling into your groups, will help you customise the journaling experience, and set things up with intention and care.
  2. Prepare your journaling activities in advance: It is not enough to simply tell people to write. While that is one approach, it's helpful to provide the structure, process and containment to help create an emotionally safe, and supported approach to going to the page. This way you can guide the journaling towards the topics and outcomes you are looking for.
  3. Make the journaling relevant: In a workshop or group where a specific topic is usually being covered, ensure the journaling activities you choose are aligned with the learning and coaching goals within your workshop or coaching program. For example, I often integrate journaling for self-care and resiliency activities into my burnout prevention workshops with caregivers.

And Here Are The 4 Practices for Inviting People to Write - and Share

How will you invite and support people to write? The following four Writing Alone Together practices offer you both a process and a structure for guiding others to write within your coaching program, workshop or retreat.

In your workshop or group, begin by introducing journaling through offering some of its many benefits to your group. This helps inspire people to write and gives them the rationale - why you're asking them to do it.

Practice 1: Write Freely

Invite writers (your clients) to do a timed writing - 5-15 minutes is a good way to start. Ideally you want to offer structure and containment for this writing exercise through providing a journaling prompt* focused around the theme of your workshop or coaching program. This helps create the emotional safety that encourages people to write freely. Let them know that whatever they write is right.

Writing freely is to follow one's own impulses and put down whatever comes. We start with a word, phrase, memory, image, question, quote, feeling or body sensations. There are hundreds of ways to come to the page. (Cutler et al., 2014, p.39).

* Journaling prompts can be extremely simple like, "I remember..." or "What I need right now is...". They can also be open-ended coaching questions on the workshop theme to provide some direction and structure eg. "If I were to take care of myself, I would..." or "I know I'm burned out when..." or "The things I'd like to celebrate in my life are..."

Practice 2: Read Aloud

After writing, let people know that next is an opportunity to share their writing together. The guidelines for this include the following:

  1. No critiquing the writing.
  2. Encourage people to listen deeply (see 3 below) and bear witness (see 4 below).
  3. Everyone is invited to share their writing in the group. It is important that people are in choice with what they share. They can read all of their writing (which is encouraged), a portion of their writing, even a few words. It is also valuable to reflect on the process itself, asking people to simply reflect on the writing they did - what it was like to do? What stood out for them?

IMPORTANT: Sharing is always voluntary. People can share with the whole group, or in pairs. Creating a sense of permission to share, to have a voice and to be vulnerable is part of the transformational process. Through reading our writing aloud we allow ourselves to be seen and to be vulnerable. "Safe" vulnerability is at the heart of growth and change.

When we read aloud, we connect with the feelings and emotions of our words, which may not be apparent when we are writing them down or reading them silently to ourselves. It is natural to feel vulnerable, hesitant, frightened and uncertain when reading our words aloud. We may also feel excited, enthusiastic and eager. (Cutler et al., 2014, p.44).

Practice 3: Listen Deeply

Invite participants to listen deeply while others share their writing. I encourage people to listen with curiosity, without judgement or critique of the person or their writing. In this way, both the writer (storyteller) and the listener are met with a greater sense of connection, support and belonging through the act of listening deeply. So often in life, people do not feel heard. Listening, by nature, is a gift we can give to others.

How we listen to one another is important when sharing our journal writing. Listening means being receptive to what is being shared and also hearing beyond the words… this is essential towards building trust in the circle (group). Listening also implies being non-judgmental. (Cutler et al., 2014, p.46).

Practice 4: Bear Witness

What is bearing witness? As coaches, this is part of the work that we do. Perhaps Margaret Wheatley says it best:

"When I bear witness, I turn toward another and am willing to let their experience enter my heart. I step into the picture, by being willing to be open to their experience, to not turn away my gaze… We can feel hopeless and overwhelmed by this world; we can turn and just live the best life we can. Or we can learn to bear witness."

Bearing witness asks us to be fully present and hold the space for one another. It is a way of interacting with respect for another human being that honours who they are and what they are sharing…This enables us to truly see one another in authentic, honest ways - so we may see ourselves with this level of kindness and depth. (Cutler et al., 2014, p.50).

Wrap-up

So, I invite you to be creative and courageous as you play with writing and journaling as transformational practices. Learn how journaling can serve as a catalyst for creative self-expression, growth, learning, compassion and connection.

"When we come together and share our stories, it expands our notion of what is possible. It changes the person telling the story, it changes whoever is listening to the story, and it changes how we understand our own story." Al-Jen Pod

[1] Cutler, W., Monk, L. & Shira, A. (2014). Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection. Salt Spring Island: Butterfly Press.

Lynda Monk 2017 HeadshotContributing author: Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC is Director of the International Association for Journal Writing. She is the author of Life Source Writing: A Reflective Journaling Practice for Self-Discovery, Self-Care, Wellness & Creativity, the co-author of "Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection." Sign up for her newsletter to access your free gift: 7 Servings of Journal Juice filled with inspiration and information to juice up your journaling!

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