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Safety in journalling relies on many things. If you are careless with where you keep your journal, someone else may read it, confidentiality is out of the window and – in worst cases – you can feel violated, sometimes sufficiently so as to require full-blown counselling! 


But safety derives from other considerations as well. The free-write can take you places that surprise you but you may not feel quite ready for that freedom. The trick is to protect yourself with regard to structure, pace and containment. 


And one of the safest ways of journalling – if you find the free-write too unstructured at the moment – is a response to a sentence stem. If you want further to restrict your response, set yourself time limits and remember response to a statement stem such as ‘I am …..’ engages the brain. But if you feel a little braver, try a question which engages the heart. Such as ‘Who am I . . .? 

Try these springboard sentence stems and review your reactions:

  1. How do I feel right now? (Three words?)
  2. Today I feel ———– (5? 15? 55?)
  3. I want to achieve these three things . . . . (today, this year, during my lifetime)
  4. What resources do I have to achieve what I want?
  5. What resources do I need to achieve what I want?
  6. I have received . . . from the world today?
  7. What has the world given me today?
  8. I am proud of myself because . . .
  9. I am . . .
  10. Who am I?

Have a go!

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This month – in my Memoir & Journaling group – we’ve been concentrating on Dialogues – dialogues with people, ‘work’ activities, and body parts and identities. But a thought occurs: while practising our journaling techniques we are also practising creative writing techniques and vice versa. Without concentrating so hard we’re taking the life out of ourselves, we’re skilling up beyond our wildest dreams. I love the way these two aspects of writing mesh. And the way writing itself can be so good for us!

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  1. First buy yourself a notebook – nothing so beautiful you don’t want to write in it!
  2. Take up your pen and write from the heart
  3. Don’t fuss about grammar etc. Keep going – don’t stop to correct or edit
  4. Express and release all those emotions, fears, and anger sloshing about inside. Write and release to avoid the bad effects of keeping these feelings bottled up.
  5. Write until you feel you can’t write any more – write till you’re exhausted of feeling. Don’t be arbitrary eg. Morning pages (3 pages, every morning etc) Write when you feel so full you may burst if you don’t do something!
  6. Use your journal as your sounding board, the counselor in your pocket, say anything you like to your journal – it will not judge you.
  7. Writing in your journal is a way you can safely yell at your ex-spouse  – create the letters you’d like to send but never will. eg to your ex’s new lover, inlaws. This is your arena for a fight.
  8. The only rule is to date each entry  (The Date rule may help in court but will also help you review your progress.)
  9. Use your journal to record any physical symptoms – BP, rapid heart rate, fast breathing, energy level etc This way you are using your journal as a well-being tool.

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Who are divorce & separation coaching clients? Well, I think of them as healthy people, capable of action and taking decisions. Not unwell. And not impaired emotionally, morally and mentally by their experiences.  So why do they need help? Because they are in extreme distress. They are very, very sad. And because of that, they may need the support of a coach – even for a short while, just to get them over the ‘bad bit’ so they can envision their futures and start building them. My clients are not ill. They do not need pills or therapies the GP has no time to give them. They are the distressed well. And they deserve to have respect and someone on their side.

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Vision Stories may express

  • Personal visions – our own futures 
  • Personal visions – when we  build cathedrals
  • how we want our organisations/our teams/groups/families to perform.

Bear these possibilities in mind, when reading the following story from Armenia. 

King Peter and Millie 

Once upon a time . . .

King Peter of Armenia had a beautiful daughter, Millie. When she was born, he wanted to care and guard her so she would know nothing of the world and never love anyone but himself.  For her sole use – with only female servants and a woman teacher – he had a lovely palace built on a lonely island in the middle of a dark forbidding lake.  This palace had no windows looking outwards and only the king had a key to the outer door.  He visited her once a week, for three hours, on Sundays.


But Millie grew up.  And, when she was 18, she began to think for herself.  She knew she had learned about life but only from books. And she knew she was a woman.  But, she wondered, what did that make her father? Fear had kept her servants silent. But, pitying her, her woman teacher brought her a book. And Millie realised she was in prison.


So, copying the images in the book, she made a young man out of flour, eggs and butter and milk. And, weeping, she prayed to God for a soul to fill the beautiful young man with Life. The image was given a soul and Millie called him Michael. The woman teacher brought him clothes. Apart from Millie – only she knew of his existence. And the two young people fell in love.


Then, one Sunday, they slept over long in the morning, and King Peter arrived.  Millie’s father came upon his daughter with a young man sleeping by her side and was enraged.He had been to so much trouble and expense to prevent precisely this. He ordered their executions.


As Millie stood on the block, about to die, she said:  “I made the young man standing beside me – he has no family and no ties. I made him by myself. And this was my wish – I have loved and been loved. If you kill me, father, I have no regrets.”


King Peter could indeed find no evidence that the young man was human. So he relented because he truly loved his daughter. In reparation, he gave the young couple a new home and his blessing.  And they all lived happily ever after.


Sharing learnings

What are the visions here?

Where is the conflict?

Who changes their vision?

Why is one vision so powerful?


Reflective Writing

Write down learnings from this story which you could apply in your daily and professional life?


  1. What is your vision and how do these learnings change it?
  2. What commitments are you making to your vision?
  3. What actions will you take when you leave?

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2010 Letting Stories Breathe: A socio-narratology. Arthur W Frank. University of Chicago Press

2010 Tales for Trainers. Margaret Parkin. Kogan Page.

2009 Charisma – The Art of Relationships. Michael Grinder. See website, http://www.michaelgrinder.com

2008 Practicing Narrative Mediation. John Winslade and Gerald Monk. Publ. Jossey-Bass (a Wiley Imprint)

2008 Proust and the Squid: The Story of Science and the Reading Brain. Maryanne Wolf. Icon Books Ltd (Reprinted 2010)

2007 Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Find, Develop, and Deliver Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact. Annette Simmons

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Words for Well-Being, a new Cumbria Partnership Foundation NHS Trust publication, contains a melange of essays and poetry and prose exploring how creative words can promote health and well-being. This  is now available for purchase on Amazon.co.uk or  from Carol Ross, editor, c/o Cumbria Partnership Foundation NHS Trust. I am one of the chapter authors and my theme? Story-sharing in Healthcare.

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