Helping College Students Develop Mental Wellness Skills Through Journaling Techniques
Julia Y. Porter
Porter, Julia Y., is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Mississippi State University-Meridian. Her areas of expertise are college counseling and career counseling.
Journaling is a technique often used in counseling to help clients identify problematic thoughts and behaviors. While clients are usually aware that things are not going well in their lives, they often are not able to identify or explain factors that are contributing to their life problems. Used effectively, journaling can help make clients aware of problems that they have not yet identified and provide clients with new insights into problems they are already working to resolve (Gladding, 2001).
While the traditional use of journaling as a counseling technique usually focuses on treatment, this action research project uses journaling techniques to teach college students mental wellness skills. Students enrolled in an undergraduate class EDF 3413 Writing for Thinking were joined with graduate students in COE 8053/8156 Counselor Education Practicum to form a learning community entitled “Journaling for Mental Wellness”. The overall goal for this project was to teach students the value of journaling as a tool for both personal wellness and professional growth. An added benefit was improvement of writing skills.
Wellness prevention addresses mental, physical, social, and emotional needs (Hollingsworth and Porter, 2007). Following is a list of wellness needs with some of the key behavior factors that have been identified through research as contributing to wellness in each of the needs areas:
Of particular interest in this project were mental wellness needs specific to college students. Wellness counseling skills targeted were wellness planning skills, academic skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, team building skills, assertiveness skills, and stress management skills. While all of these skills were addressed during this project, wellness planning skills and communication skills were emphasized.
The goal of this project was to help undergraduate and graduate students develop wellness skills through journaling that will help them assume responsibility for their own mental wellness. Techniques used included 1) a focus group led by a counselor who is a journaling expert, 2) traditional journaling, and 3) electronic journaling.
The journaling activities began with a 3 hour focus group session. During this session the following topics were covered:
Students who participated in this project prepared a final essay in which they evaluated the journaling process and their growth as individuals and professionals as a result of their participation in the learning community (Astin, 1995; Porter & Burnett, 2003). Students agreed that the process was beneficial. One participant wrote, “I am amazed at how uncluttered my mind has become and the refocus and relief from writing. Why haven’t I found time before?”
Some of the challenges encountered when implementing this project were:
Journaling techniques can be used to help college students acquire mental wellness skills. Being able to incorporate these techniques into appropriate existing classes makes the wellness training available to a much larger number of students than could be reached by individual or small group counseling through college counseling centers. Benefits from mental wellness journaling activities are: 1) journaling encourages appropriate release of emotions, 2) journaling encourages self-analysis, 3) journaling improves critical thinking skills, and 4) journaling improves communication skills.
Astin, A. W. (1993). Assessment for Excellence. Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press.
Gladding, S. T. (2001). The counseling dictionary. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Hollingsworth, M. A. & Porter, J. Y. (2007) Counseling Students’ Perceptions about the Need for Wellness Planning. In press Tennessee Counseling Association Journal.
Porter, J. Y., & Burnett, M. F. (2003). Facilitating Accountability Data Collection For Use in Counseling Effectiveness Assessment. Professional Issues in Counseling. http://unx1.shsu.edu/~piic/Fall2003/indexfall03.html