According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, 15% have current PTSD, and 29% have PTSD at some point during their lifetimes. Given the high prevalence of PTSD, effective treatment for veterans is essential. One option that can be beneficial during the healing process is journaling. 

The Benefits of Journaling for Veterans

Journaling is often used as an intervention for those with symptoms of a mental health disorder. When it comes to PTSD, journaling can help with processing trauma and stress. One small study with veterans found that writing helped express emotions, call attention to personal issues and develop a sense of empowerment. If a veteran is struggling with negative emotions associated with PTSD, journaling can be a tool for reframing thoughts and creating the motivation to make positive changes. 

Journaling in Conjunction With Therapy

Journaling for veterans with PTSD is most helpful as an add-on to therapy. For example, it allows veterans to continue healing outside routine therapy sessions. Veterans can use the tools learned in therapy to process their emotions via journaling and then report back to their therapist during their next session.

Research has also shown that when veterans use expressive writing, it reduces symptoms of anger, distress and PTSD. Journaling could be a healthy way to cope with stress and regulate emotions outside sessions. 

Another benefit of journaling is that it’s a private activity. If talking about strong emotions is too challenging, you can get your emotions out through journaling. Then, rather than addressing these emotions in conversation with a therapist, you can talk about what you got from the journaling process. 

Getting Started: Tips for Veterans

If you’d like to explore using journaling as a therapeutic activity, you might not know how to start. Some tips to consider include:

  • Pick a quiet space for journaling. It’s important to be able to focus on your writing without interruptions.
  • Write continuously for 15–20 minutes. This is the recommended amount of time for therapeutic writing. 
  • Choose an upsetting or traumatic event and write about it. However, you want to ensure that the event isn’t too upsetting. Don’t pick an event if it’s so distressing that you cannot cope.
  • Write only for yourself, and don’t worry about what others would think. Find a way to keep your writing private, whether hiding it in your office or destroying it after writing.
  • Don’t worry about being perfect with spelling or grammar. What is most important is that you get your thoughts on paper. 
  • Understand that you might feel upset after writing, but this is temporary. The negative emotions will pass.

Journaling isn’t a perfect tool, and you may encounter some roadblocks. For instance, you might feel emotional discomfort, especially when you start. It’s helpful if you understand that the discomfort is temporary. 

You can often cope with the discomfort and move toward healing by caring for yourself after you journal. Take some time to do a relaxing activity you enjoy to help yourself return to a calm state after journaling. 

If the feelings evoked during journaling are so intense that you cannot cope, pause the exercise. Get support from a trusted friend or relative, or do a relaxing exercise like yoga or meditation to calm yourself. It is also important to connect with your therapist or counselor as soon as you can to discuss the intense feelings you experienced.

Finally, you may find that you sometimes get stuck and don’t know what to write. Letting the pen flow freely is helpful, writing whatever comes to mind. Think about the thoughts and emotions surrounding the traumatic event you experienced. If you’re unsure exactly what to write, focus on reframing your thoughts about the experience.

Maybe you’re unsure what to write when you start therapeutic journaling, but you’re not alone, and knowing where to begin is not always easy. Fortunately, there are plenty of topics you can explore:

Topics to Explore: What Veterans Can Journal About

  • Thoughts and emotions related to a traumatic or stressful event
  • Feelings of grief related to a loss or trauma
  • Ways you’ve shown strength and resilience in the face of trauma
  • How you’ve made meaning out of a traumatic or upsetting experience 
  • What it’s been like to transition from deployment back to civilian life 

What’s important is that you write about something meaningful to you and journal your deepest thoughts and feelings about the experience. 

Addressing Mental Health: Beyond PTSD

Therapeutic journaling can be beneficial for PTSD symptoms, but this isn’t the only benefit of this tool. Some studies have shown that journaling can be useful for addressing symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also help cope with the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one and general life stressors. 

Journaling as a Supplement, Not a Substitute

Journaling can be a helpful therapeutic tool, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for professional treatment. Ideally, you will journal while working with a professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. 

You might be able to undertake journaling on your own, but if you have symptoms of PTSD, professional treatment is often warranted. If symptoms like flashbacks, unwanted memories and unpleasant emotions are frequent and make it difficult to cope in daily life, seeking treatment is the best option. A therapist or other mental health professional can walk you through the journaling process and provide support along the way. 

Exploring Healing Options: Seek the Care You Deserve

If you’re a veteran with symptoms of PTSD and/or addiction, you deserve quality treatment. Many different programs are designed to meet the unique needs of veterans. Such programs provide a range of services, including individual therapy, medication management and support groups, to help you heal. 

Explore Our FORTITUDE Specialty Track for Veterans

If you’re a veteran in need of mental health and addiction treatment, The Recovery Village can help. We can treat addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders like PTSD or depression. We offer a specialty FORTITUDE program for veterans, with exclusive support groups for veterans and first responders. Contact one of our Veteran Advocates today to get started with treatment.

a group of soldiers with american flags on their uniforms.

Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission

The Recovery Village is an industry-leading treatment provider for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

  • Experienced clinicians: Our clinicians are specially trained in trauma-informed care, military culture and treating veteran-specific addiction and mental health needs.
  • Dual diagnosis: We treat addiction and mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety or depression simultaneously for a better recovery.  
  • EMDR: A revolutionary treatment available at several facilities, EMDR therapy alleviates mental pain and emotional recession from trauma, which can lead to better outcomes for your addiction.
  • FORTITUDE: Our specialty track for veterans and first responders at select facilities puts you in exclusive group therapy sessions with your peers. 

If you’re a veteran struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, our Veteran Advocates can help you navigate your VA health insurance and get you the help you need.

a woman wearing a black shirt and smiling.
Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
a close up of a person with blue eyes.
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Schnurr, Paula. “Epidemiology and Impact of PTSD“>Epidemio[…]mpact 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“>Journali[…]al 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“>Self-exp[…]amily 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“>Randomiz[…] War Veterans.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023. 

Mirgain, Shilagh; Singles, Janice. “Therapeutic Journaling“>Therapeu[…]ic 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.“>Expressi[…]turning Vets.” November 3, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.