The therapist’s road is the road less travelled, the inward road of journeys difficult and tender, triumphant and profound. The more we map the terrain of our inner lives, the greater joy and meaning we find in helping others find their own way.
Welcome to one of my labors of love. I suppose that in some ways, my life conspired to bring me to this very moment, where I am offering you the gift of space. For me, a journal represents adventure, possibility, and the opportunity to journey into the parts of myself that I know and love, ones I know and judge, the parts I know only somewhat, places I have avoided, or the areas I do not know at all. Journals keep me accountable to myself, to my goals, my values and my relationships. And this journal keeps me accountable to my clients and my work.
Although this is the first time these questions have found themselves in this form, they have floated around in my head and in my work throughout my years of practice and thus challenged me to ask them of myself. Growing up in the concrete and grit of Brooklyn, New York in the 80’s, with a single mother who had her own struggles with addiction, trauma and marginalization, I had the foundation for becoming either a therapist or a delinquent. From her pain, she could have taught me to hurt others the way they hurt her, to distrust the world and to fend only for myself. She certainly would have been within her rights to do so, given her story.
But instead, she gifted me with all of the love, knowledge, and hope that she wanted for herself. She gave me the gift of space to be and grow into whatever I would become. She always held me to the principles of expansion and self-knowledge and instilled in me the value of both. As therapists, I believe our work as healers is to offer space for our clients to learn about their resilience, their pain, and their possibilities. As therapists, we are guides, fellow travelers and (hopefully) humble companions who simultaneously teach and learn from our clients. As such, we are responsible to them and ourselves to ensure that we have clarity of purpose, of vision, of their blind spots and our own. Once we have that clarity, we must then respond in the best ways we know how.
This journal represents an opportunity for developing greater clarity about what brought you here, what keeps you here and what you hope to do in your time as a therapist. This journey is personal, and regardless of your technique or school of thought, racial, religious, socioeconomic, sexual, or gender identity or professional training, the work is not just about your clients, but also very much about you. Today, I invite you to use this tool to delve further into your own life in service of a deeper, greater, more connected self and to become a more expansive, resilient, and responsive therapist.
Take good care of you always.
B. Nilaja Green, PhD
Thank you to my mother, who birthed in me an early love for the healing power of words, and all of my English and literature teachers who strengthened this love.
Thank you to my foundation and support system, including my birth and chosen families.
Thank you Kagiso, you are love.
Thank you to my colleagues for your vision, your tenacity, and heart. I also extend gratitude to Dr. John Strauss, M.D. and my fellow writing group colleagues at Yale University who showed me the power of using writing to deepen, improve, and humanize my work.
Thank you to my clients who show up to their own life challenges with courage and with hope. You inspire me every day.
How To Use This Introspective Journal
This journal is an offering to aid you in your deepening journey towards becoming an insightful, compassionate, effective, and trustworthy therapist. Although we may have the best of intentions, I believe that we cannot offer a truly trusting relationship to our clients, if we do not spend time within the depths of our being. If we are unfamiliar with our motivations, vulnerabilities, biases, and open wounds, they will show up in the therapy room and undermine our work. Even the best techniques do not substitute for the wisdom gained from intentional self-work.
Many training programs used to require students to engage in therapy as they were learning to do therapy themselves. Although my training program did not have this requirement, I sought out therapy during graduate school and beyond. Those experiences provided invaluable pieces to my growth as a therapist, and continue to do so. I urge you to do this if you can.
Although journal writing does not replace therapy, supervision, or peer consultation, writing provides a way to process thoughts and emotions and the opportunity to “think out loud.” Guided journaling does the same, but with specific topics and directives. I urge you to consider this journal as a tool for your inner work, especially a tool that can help you to connect the dots between your inner life and your chosen profession of therapist.
As a tool, this journal can:
● Allow you to hone in on your insight and intuition
● Give you a glimpse into some of your inner motivations, challenges, and blind spots
● Help you examine how you are showing up in your practice
● Deepen your understanding of the “why” and “how” of your work
Some ideas on how to use this journal:
● Write in it daily.
● Write in it when a particular clinical encounter stands out to you.
● Use as a supplement to clinical supervision.
● Use as a companion tool in your personal therapy sessions.
● Use in a writing group format with other therapists.
● Use the blank pages to jot down ideas, inspirations and other questions you have for yourself.
● Use the Self-care Action Plans and Calendar Trackers to notice how you feel when you care for and respond to your needs.
Tips for the introspective therapist
● Begin from a place of open curiosity, nonjudgment, and compassion.
● Accept that our work, our writing, and our lives are in process, and we are not now where we are to remain. We are not now whom we are becoming.
● Introspection provides a pathway for inner development, knowledge, and growth. This is most useful to the world when through this work, we create more aware, compassionate, responsible, and resilient human beings from ourselves.
● Take your time going through the journal and allow yourself to sit with what comes up without pushing it away, even if you notice feelings of discomfort and/or confusion.
● Know that this journal represents one step towards becoming more fully human and more wholly in contact with your own life. These things will greatly improve your practice.
We often play at vulnerability, choosing safe people to be in relationship with, safe career paths to take, and moving through our days with a level of automaticity that prevents us from fully connecting to the life happening inside of us. True vulnerability means living fully connected. It means saying the thing you are afraid to say, but you know needs to be said. It is showing up as your full self even when who you are and what you represent falls outside of the lines. It is crying tears of joy or sadness, or navigating feelings you cannot name. It is saying, “I don’t know,” or “I made a mistake,” or “I am sorry,” without adding any qualifiers.
I have learned that the price of intimacy is vulnerability. You cannot have one without the other. I have come to understand that the price of authenticity is also vulnerability. I cannot be my full, authentic self if I am distracted by the ways I protect myself, and neither can you. I must walk my walk and know that the point of the journey is not that I never get hurt, but that even through my hurts, I live anyway.
Far too often, we sit down to a task after running hurriedly from the previous task. We begin a new moment still carrying the thoughts, worries, and burdens of the moment just before it and the moment just before that.
I invite you to use the guided prompts in this journal as a moment to pause and take a breath before diving into the questions posed on these pages. Perhaps these prompts can guide you to be more present with yourself and also more present with your clients.
Mindfulness provides us a straightforward way of connecting with each present moment, which in turn gives us a way of connecting to ourselves in any given moment. Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to ground you back into this current, living present, as opposed to the past moments that have already gone or future moments that have yet to become. I offer you the opportunity to use this grounding exercise whenever you open this book to begin to write, for much wisdom awaits us in the now, when we allow ourselves to connect to it.
Brief body scan with mindful breathing:
● Sit comfortably in your seat, with feet flat on the floor, or crossed if you have a sitting practice
● I invite you to uncross your limbs, fingers, hands, and any other parts of your body
● Allow yourself to sit with your back comfortably erect with shoulders down and neck loose
● Allow yourself to close your eyes or rest your gaze on a blank spot just in front of you
● Bring your attention to the feeling of your feet in your shoes, against the floor beneath you
● Allow the attention to move up to your calf muscles, the bend in your knees, to your thighs against the seat
● Notice the sensations in your abdomen below the navel and then above your navel
● Notice your chest, its movements as you breathe, then allow your focus to move to your lower back, your middle back, and then your upper back – including your shoulder blades
● Notice your neck, your jaw, your mouth, your eye sockets, and even your forehead
● Settle your attention on your breathing – inhaling and exhaling through your nose
● Imagine a balloon in your stomach such that when you breathe in, you send the air past your chest into your stomach, inflating the balloon as wide as it will go, and when you breathe out, imagine you are deflating the balloon, sending the air back up and out
● Repeat the breathing for about 2-5 minutes before beginning to write
We have all come to this work from somewhere: an experience or set of experiences, a dream we have long held onto, or a dream someone else dreamt for us. Wherever we have come from, as therapists, we often find ourselves journeying with another along some of life’s most confusing, difficult, and at times terrible terrains. And yet, something must keep us grounded, connected, and aware in order for us to do our work well. Often, our values form the core of the lives we create and the work that we do. This exercise invites you to consider your present values, so that you may have the opportunity to live as intentionally as possible, as close to your values as possible.
Here is a list of values to get you started:
Acceptance Accomplishment Accountability Accuracy Achievement Adaptability Alertness Altruism Ambition Amusement Assertiveness Attentive Awareness
Balance Beauty Boldness Bravery Brilliance
Calm Candor Capable Careful Certainty Challenge Charity Cleanliness Clear Clever Comfort
Commitment Commonsense Communication Community Compassion Competence Conscientiousness Creativity Critical Consciousness Confidence Connection Consistency Contentment Contribution Control Conviction Cooperation Courage Courtesy Credibility Curiosity
Data Debate Decisiveness Dependability Determination Development Dignity Discipline Discovery Drive
Effectiveness Efficiency Emotional Expression Empathy Endurance Enjoyment Enthusiasm Equality Ethics Excellence Experience Evidence Exploration Expansion
Fairness Family Fame Fearlessness Fidelity Focus Fortitude Freedom Friendship Fun
Generosity Genius Giving Goodness Grace Gratitude Greatness Growth Happiness
Hard work Harmony Health Honesty Honor Hope Humility
Imagination Improvement Independence Individuality Industriousness Interdependence Innovation Insight Inspiration Integrity Intelligence Intensity Intuition Irreverence
Joy Justice Kindness Knowledge Lawful Leadership Learning Liberation Love Loyalty
Mastery Maturity Meaningfulness Moderation Motivation
Openness Opportunity Optimism Order Organization Originality
Passion Patience Peace Persistence Present Moment Productivity Playfulness Potential Power Professionalism Prosperity Purpose Purity
Quality Questioning Realism Reason Recognition Recreation Reflection Respect Responsibility Restraint Results-oriented Reverence Rigor Risk
Safety Security Self-reliance Selflessness Sensitivity Service Simplicity Sincerity Skillfulness Solitude Spirituality Spontaneity Stability Status Stewardship Strength Structure Success Sustainability
Timeliness Tolerance Tranquility Transparency Trust Truth Understanding Uniqueness Unity Vision Vitality Wealth Wisdom
Once you have looked over the list:
● Narrow down your values into the following categories: Most Important, Very Important, Somewhat Important, Important, Not at all Important
● Only keep the Very Important and Most Important lists of words. You may discard or remove the others.
● From both categories combined, choose a total of the top 10 values.
_______________________________ __________________________ _______________________________ __________________________ _______________________________ __________________________ _______________________________ __________________________ _______________________________ __________________________
● From those top ten, choose your top 5 values. __________________________
● Notice and write about the extent to which your work and major life areas (relationships, family life, health, connectedness, love relationships, paid work) do or do not line up with these values. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________
● List the top barriers to living more in alignment with your top 5 values (e.g. not enough time, not enough resources, too many distractions, etc.). __________________________ _______________________________ ___________________________________________________ ____________________
● List those factors that can bring you more into alignment. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________
● Consider 3 ways over the next year (3 action steps you will take) to more closely align your work and your values if they are not so aligned; or if they are aligned, consider three ways to deepen this alignment: ____________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________
● Consider 3 ways over the next 6 months (3 action steps you will take) to more closely align your work and your values if they are not so aligned; or if they are aligned, consider three ways to deepen this alignment: _____________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________
● Consider 3 ways over the next month (3 action steps you will take) to more closely align your work and your values if they are not so aligned; or if they are aligned, consider three ways to deepen this alignment: _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________
● Consider 3 ways over the next week (3 action steps you will take) to more closely align your work and your values if they are not so aligned; or if they are aligned, consider three ways to deepen this alignment: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
● What can you do TODAY (3 action steps you will take) to more closely align your work and your values if they are not so aligned; or if they are aligned, consider three ways you will deepen this alignment: _____________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________