As I See It: Journaling as a Recovery Tool
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
My double approach to therapy
Marvin Spieler
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During April of 1964 I started what was to become my first journal. I was attending Bronx Community College, asked to write an autobiography for my last paper of an English Composition Course, but was stymied. Dr. Kurian, my psychiatrist at the time, told me, "Write it for me," as I couldn't reveal my life to that college instructor. It was just too personal. However, Dr. Kurian's idea worked. I called my paper "An Autobiographical Sketch" as I wrote 15 pages and left off at age 13. I was given an "A" for the assignment. Dr. Kurian had made the paper a cinch to write.

I continued in therapy and wrote my thoughts on a weekly basis for Dr. Kurian. I felt I was receiving two sessions for the cost of one: talk therapy and what I'll call journal therapy. Each week I handed in anywhere from seven to 20 pages of new journal entries.

In therapy I would obviously talk and sometimes read my entries, just refer to them or ad lib my thoughts based on ideas previously expressed from old entries, or current thoughts of the week just passed.

My first journal lasted about 10 years, as long as I continued to see Dr. Kurian. I even at one point wrote a column called "Dear Dr. Kurian." It was an abridged, excerpted column of my entries. They were revealing to some degree. One friend who read my column was shocked. "You wrote that?" The column was printed in a Straus League publication of a program at the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was very pleased to be able to share my written thoughts for all members to read.

Since 1994, I have kept my third journal for my current therapist Juan Sanchez of Baltic Street Center, a clinic of South Beach Psychiatric Center.

I have used my journal as a tool for growth. At times, thoughts couldn't be verbalized so I took pen to paper to further the therapy process along. Sometimes I felt compelled to read entries without looking at my therapist at all. Other times I just handed them to my therapist.

Psychotherapy hasn't been an easy process to undertake. I had entered therapy at age 14, but spent each weekly session for 10 months discussing politics. Then, the political talk shows were my meat and potatoes. I had initiated my therapy, but once involved in it, I never discussed my problems at all. I was too shy and withdrawn to use the weekly sessions to my advantage.

Now my problems in therapy are different. I talk, but listen poorly. Much too much time has been wasted. Progress has been slower than I would like. However, progress does continue. Change has occurred with Juan. It has been so slow and gradual that most important changes I am seeing only by reflection.

Many times when I write a journal entry about a problem, something new happens now. As I write, the problem becomes clearer and at times a solution develops. In essence, I have learned to solve some of my own problems. Besides this, I try writing with a more positive attitude toward myself. I list more of my accomplishments than previously. I am trying hard to be a more positive person regarding what I do and what I haven't been able to do. This is a start in a new direction. I hope to translate this into positive daily actions.

My journal and articles like these give me a means of expressing my thoughts to receive and offer help. I can say what I want, how I desire to express myself, and as I feel.

My journal writing still serves a purpose. Off and on for 40 years, this double approach to therapy has served me well.
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