Psychological Self-Help

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All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been, it is lying as in magic preservation in
the pages of books
-Thomas Carlyle
Keeping journals and diaries help us pull together useful
information from books, from observing events in our own lives, from
talking with others, from our own thoughts, dreams, feelings, and
internal drives. I especially encourage students to take personalized
notes while they read useful psychology books. But I discourage
writing a summary (like for an exam) of what they have read; you
aren't preparing to take an exam; instead, write down exactly how you
can use the information you have just read. Knowledge that is used is
of much more value than stored knowledge; in fact, if you don't use
new information within a couple of days, it isn't likely to ever be used
and you may not store it for long. A journal is an excellent place to
figure out how to improve yourself and your life. Daily diaries can
serve you in many other ways, most of these ways are quite conscious
but by thinking and writing in a diary we gain new ideas and a
different perspective. Certainly intimate diaries provide fascinating
insight-laden reading weeks, months, and years later. Journals can
involve in-depth probing, as you will soon see. 
Therapists frequently take a careful social history, like a biography,
before undertaking therapy. Knowing the background, the possible
causes, facilitates finding the cures (see chapter 2). Books, such as
John Bradshaw's Family Secrets, can guide your exploration for two or
three generations back. It is amazing how often our problems are
rooted in the problems and traumas of our parents' and grandparents'
childhood. We can only know ourselves by knowing our family history.
Writing an autobiography, incorporating your family history, greatly
increases your awareness of the events underlying today's events and
feelings. It can be fascinating and healing. The knowledge can also be
a wonderful legacy to your children. 
Many writers of autobiographies have commented about the
powerful emotions, insights, and finally personal relief from re-living
stressful periods of their lives, e.g. Steinum, 1992. Wegscheider-Cruse
(1992) guides you through the process of writing your own history.
Rico (1991) documents the value of self-healing by writing your way
through a crisis, much as you would do when keeping a diary. Since
1985, James Pennebaker has done a remarkable series of laboratory-
based studies assessing the value of writing about traumatic events in
your life. The results document the emotional and physical health
benefits from putting emotional upheavals into words. The researchers
have also been surprised that serious traumas have occurred in 50%
of the lives of even young, upper-middle class college students. The
young people have been willing to openly write about deaths, rape,
family violence, suicide attempts, drug problems, and other horrors. In
a study with Joshua Smyth, Pennebaker found that writing about
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