Using Journaling as a Mediation Tool

Using Journaling as a Mediation Tool

Many psychological and neuroscience studies have shown that expressive writing can be an effective way to reduce stress. Mediators can take advantage of this knowledge to help reduce the parties’ stress before or during a mediation session.

What is expressive writing?

Expressive writing is simply writing down personal thoughts, experiences, feelings, or reflections for private use. It is done without regard to proper grammar, punctuation, or spelling. It can be repetitive and does not need to be objectively correct.  Expressive writing is also sometimes called journaling. Unlike the popular conception of journaling this does not need to be a habitual practice. It can be a short-term assignment given before or during a mediation session.

The effectiveness of expressive writing was studied by Prof. James Pennebaker in the 1980s. His work has been replicated many times showing that writing for 15 minutes, four days in a row, resulted in better health. More recently, neuroscientists have researched the impact of using language to label emotions on various areas of the brain. They have done many brain studies showing that using a word to describe an emotion, shown in a picture, can decrease activity specifically in the amygdala. Reduced amygdala activity often results in a reduction of the physiologic stress response.

Journaling Before a Mediation Session

When a mediator believes the parties to a mediation may experience high and stressful emotions, the mediator can suggest that the parties prepare for the mediation session by journaling for a few days. The journaling might include:

  • A description of the incident that precipitated the conflict including the party’s emotional reaction to the incident,
  • Reflections on the party’s emotional response to the subsequent conflict, or
  • Ideas for resolving the conflict, especially ideas dealing with emotional issues. 

Journaling During a Mediation Session

When a mediator encounters high stressful emotions during a mediation, she can suggest journaling while she meets with the opposing side. Effective journaling might include:

  • A description of the party’s current emotional state and why the party thinks their emotions are so high,
  • A description of past incidents or emotions connected to the current conflict, or
  • A list of options that may be helpful in resolving the conflict, especially options that deal with the party’s emotional needs and interests. 


Mediators should emphasize that these journals are the private thoughts of the party and are not intended to be shared with anyone. A party may decide to share some of the ideas in the writing, but mediators should never ask a party to reveal the journal entries.

-Jill Tanz

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