Journaling as a Therapeutic Activity for Veterans Managing PTSD

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports that among veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom, 15% are currently dealing with PTSD, and 29% have encountered it at some point in their lives. With such significant numbers, finding effective treatments for veterans is critical. Journaling stands out as a beneficial practice during the recovery journey.

Advantages of Journaling for Veterans

Journaling serves as a therapeutic strategy for individuals experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions, including PTSD. It aids in the processing of traumatic events and stress. A particular study involving veterans revealed that journaling facilitated emotional expression, highlighted personal concerns, and fostered a feeling of empowerment. For veterans contending with the negative feelings tied to PTSD, journaling offers a means to reshape thoughts and inspire positive life changes.

Integrating Journaling with Professional Therapy

For veterans with PTSD, journaling is most effective when used alongside professional therapy. It provides a method for continuous healing beyond the therapy office, allowing veterans to apply therapeutic techniques to manage emotions through writing and then share these insights during subsequent therapy sessions.

Evidence suggests that expressive writing can diminish symptoms of anger, distress, and PTSD among veterans, making journaling a viable strategy for stress management and emotional regulation outside of therapy sessions.

Moreover, journaling serves as a confidential method to confront and articulate strong emotions. If discussing these emotions verbally is daunting, writing them down offers an alternative way to process them. Discussion with a therapist can then focus on insights gained from the journaling process.

Starting with Journaling: Guidance for Veterans

Beginning a journaling practice can seem overwhelming. Here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Choose a tranquil environment to journal without interruptions
  • Aim to write for 15–20 minutes, focusing on a challenging yet manageable traumatic event
  • Write for your eyes only, ensuring your thoughts are kept private, and don’t stress over spelling or grammar
  • Be prepared for potential emotional discomfort post-writing, recognizing that it’s a part of the healing process

Overcoming Journaling Challenges

While beneficial, journaling might initially bring emotional discomfort. Recognizing this as a temporary state and engaging in self-care activities post-journaling can help ease this discomfort. If journaling evokes overwhelming feelings, it’s important to seek support from a therapist, counselor, or a trusted individual.

Encountering a block in what to write is common. Allowing thoughts to flow freely on paper, focusing on the emotions and thoughts surrounding the traumatic event, can help move past this hurdle.

Journaling Topics for Veterans

Veterans can explore a variety of topics in their journals, such as:

  • Reflections on traumatic or stressful experiences
  • Expressions of grief and loss
  • Recognition of personal resilience and strength
  • Making sense of traumatic experiences
  • Adjustments from military to civilian life

Writing about these topics can offer veterans a meaningful outlet for their deepest reflections and emotions.

Beyond PTSD: The Wider Benefits of Journaling

While particularly beneficial for managing PTSD symptoms, journaling also aids in addressing depression, anxiety, relationship endings, bereavement, and other life stressors.

Journaling as an Adjunct, Not a Replacement

Although a valuable therapeutic tool, journaling should complement, not replace, professional mental health treatment. Engaging in journaling while receiving professional guidance is ideal, especially for those dealing with PTSD symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.

Exploring Treatment Options: Advocating for Veteran Well-being

Veterans facing PTSD and/or addiction deserve access to comprehensive treatment tailored to their unique needs, encompassing therapy, medication management, and support groups.

The FORTITUDE Specialty Track for Veterans

The Recovery Village offers the FORTITUDE program, designed specifically for veterans dealing with addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions like PTSD and depression. This program includes specialized support groups for veterans and first responders, ensuring veterans receive the focused care they need. 


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.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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