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What does a Catholic Psychologist Say about the Benefits of Prayer Journaling?
This article is based on a conversation I had with Dr. Matt Breuninger (author of Finding Freedom in Christ: Healing Life’s Hurts)
You can view and/or listen to the whole interview on YouTube here:
Why Prayer Journal?
For me, my habit of prayer journaling began during a depression. My heart was broken, I was lonely and I wanted to run to God with everything and I wondered if He could hear me. I wondered if He was disappointed in me. There were times of such sadness, sorrow and despair.
But, there were also moments of hope.
It wasn’t until many years after that depression that I began to write about prayer journaling and encourage others to try it.
The articles I have written previously are based on my experience; and although I can say I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology – most of what I have written is not exactly academic.
Enter Dr. Matt Breuninger.
(author of Finding Freedom in Christ: Healing Life’s Hurts)
Dr. Matt Breuninger prayed the Rosary with ManyHailMarysataTime one morning and I felt compelled to reach out to him. I told him that I am an author of two prayer journals for kids and that I really feel that the act of prayer journaling is a great spiritual practice. I asked him if he’d be interested in shedding some light on the subject from the knowledge of a psychologist. He graciously agreed.
And wow, Dr. B (as he refers to himself on social media) really schooled me 🙂
Here are some of the lessons I learned from our discussion.
The Benefits of Writing by Hand
The trend on college campuses that has led many student to stop taking notes by hand and start taking them on a lap top or other device has spawned a number of studies on the benefits of writing by hand.
These studies conclude that taking notes by hand is better for memory.
It has been found by scientific research that writing by hand activates regions of the brain that seem to access deeper learning and processing of the information being written.
When we write by hand laying down neural pathways associated with learning and memory.
According to Audrey van der Meer, a neuroscientist and professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) assures those that although writing by hand can seem more challenging than typing it is much better for our brain. In the article New Study Suggests Handwriting Engages the Brain More Than Typing she states:
“If we don’t challenge our brain, it can’t reach its full potential. “
Why does journaling help people who suffer from anxiety and depression?
Patients who have anxiety and depression report having less intrusive thoughts when they journal.
Why is that?
The answer has to do with working memory.
Working Memory is helpful for life problems – from “how am I going to get dinner ready” to “how can I improve my marriage?”
If we don’t feel like we can solve the problem we often want to keep working on it and that can fee distracting, stressful and exhausting.
The act of writing something out allows our working memory to rest.
When we write something down (like in a journal) it gives us the sense that “I don’t have to be working on this problem 24/7.
Writing down what we are worried about or the problem we are trying to solve gives our brains a way to externally process the problem. It allows our brains and working memory to say “I can come back to that”. It signals the brain that it can be returned to.
Journaling gets intrusive thoughts out of our minds and onto paper.
When people do this, they report less intrusive thoughts.
Prayer Journaling Reduces Avoidance and Increases Peace
Psychologists have concluded that journaling reduces the constant bombardment of thoughts that our brain is telling us are important and that we need to figure out immediately or at least soon.
We as people tend to build our lives around avoidance. Psychologists have discovered that when we avoid difficult thoughts or situations we get a short term benefit – we feel relieved . . .at first.
But, then that avoidance increases anxiety.
How does Prayer Journaling help us be more faithful?
Scott Hahn, author and speaker, and Dr. Matt Breuninger just had a recent conversation about a similar topic the week of this interview and Dr. B found that is was very timely.
He mentioned that Dr. Scott Hahn had verbalized in their private discussion that:
” part of what Jesus tries to teach us is how to not be so afraid of suffering . . .”
Prayer Journaling invites us to approach difficult and painful topics and reduce our avoidance.
How is prayer journaling different than just praying?
Prayer journaling allows us to:
- create a space where we invite God in and ask Him for His safety and comfort
- courageously approach dangerous topics
One statement made by Matt Breuninger in this talk was one he made after this point. He said:
Journaling really gives us the space to approach very difficult and painful material. It can reduce our avoidance. It can reduce our anxiety, our stress and our overwhelm. When we journal we are approaching instead of avoiding.
” A huge benefit to prayer journaling is we are cracking open those places and spaces in our heart that we don’t give ourself permission to go to that often.”
That can be scary and we may feel vulnerable.
The Benefits of Prayer Journaling over Time
When you prayer journal, you are left with a sequence or series over time of these reflections and expressions of your heart. The beauty of prayer journaling is that record we create over time.
This record not only allows us to see our growth and progress but also allows us to see how God is moving in and through our journaling.
Through prayer journaling we can see changes that maybe we could not see if we were trying to hold it in our memory.
When something is in black and white on paper it is easier to accept those things as true.
Things become more clear.
God’s grace emerges from the page.
We can become more confident in the Father’s love and power.
We can be more empowered to be co-creators in our own story.
When you prayer journal you will notice things that you would not see if you are thinking about it on the fly.
Journaling creates a rhythm and a space that fosters growth.
How Do I Start Prayer Journaling?
Grab these FREE prayer journal prompts (journal prompts for Lent can be used any time of year).
Get this ebook about Prayer Journaling.
Would you like to introduce prayer journaling to your children?
Be Yourself: a Journal for Catholic Girls has consistently ranked in the top 100 Amazon categories of Children’s Christian Prayer Book and Children’s Devotional Christianity books. It’s immense popularity led to a demand for a Boy’s Journal – which was published two years later. Be Yourself: a Journal for Catholic Boys helps tweens and young teens make sense of what it means to be a Christian and a man created by God. In a sense, it’s a guide book on how to follow the advice of Saint Francis deSales:
“Be who you are and be that well. So that you may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are.”