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Structured Journaling for Personal Growth: Ira Progoff and the Intensive Journal Workshop

In the 1950s, New York City psychotherapist Ira Progoff realized several of his clients worked through their feelings and situations more quickly than others. The difference? They kept personal journals. Progoff began using unstructured journaling as an experimental tool but also discovered people could get stuck going in circles. What they needed, he determined, was a more structured approach.

Ira progoff intensive journal workshop

Progoff was deeply interested in how growth occurs in the lives of creative people. He concluded that every person has an “underground stream” of inner resources to help them make masterpieces of their lives. Progoff had studied with C.G. Jung and practiced depth psychology, in which unconscious processes like dreams, unstated desires and repressed memories are highly significant.

While using journaling and his early “psychological workbook” in therapy settings, Progoff identified another obstacle. He believed his influence intruded on the more important goal – allowing people to work autonomously with their inner selves. For this reason, Progoff began working to develop a structure that would give people more self-sufficiency.

 “I believe that people become sensitive to the elusive threads of their inner lives when they have a definite method of working with them,” Progoff said. “To become a valuable tool of psychological self-care, a journal needs a design that will help a human being answer the question, ‘What is my life trying to become?’”

This led Progoff to create his Intensive Journal Method, which he shared with hundreds of thousands of workshop participants around the world. He published At a Journal Workshop, the manual for using his method, in 1975.

In Progoff’s workshops, participants write in multi-layered loose-leaf notebooks, organizing their life experiences to better understand their own journeys. “One major benefit from working in the Intensive Journal workbook,” Progoff explained, “is to gain a perspective on the major periods of their lives so that they can draw their present life situation into focus.”

Progoff’s Intensive Journaling method consists of 16 sections. In “log” sections, participants record straightforward accounts of their experiences. In “feedback” sections, they explore writing and meditation exercises to make sense of their experiences and further develop their paths forward.

“It’s a highly useful, practical method, leading to some profound insights,” Progoff said. “Although it does not take nearly as long to learn, I like to think of the Intensive Journal workbook as a sort of musical instrument. Once you learn it, then you have a valuable tool to help you throughout life. Once people are skilled in the use of the Intensive Journal workbook, they may, whenever the need arises, enter their own sanctuary through the privacy of the Intensive Journal workbook, that is safe from the outer pressures of the world in which they quietly can reappraise their own lives.”

Progoff’s method offers several insights you can use to help people connect with their inner selves and become their own best counselors. Here are several options to consider:

  1. Encourage clients to keep more than one journal.

    In Progoff’s method, participants focus their writing on specific topics and processes in each section. For clients who keep personal journals for self-care, some may experience benefits from keeping several active notebooks, focusing on topics like dreams, emotions, health, work or progress toward specific goals.
  2. Use Progoff’s At a Journal Workshop to select journaling exercises for clients.

    Participants don’t have to fill an entire notebook to benefit from Progoff’s method. In fact, Progoff even observed benefits with participants who completed a single exercise. In one memorable encounter, two nonverbal psychiatric patients, who had been diagnosed catatonic, were able to read their “stepping stones” out loud and interact positively with staff members.
  3. Use structured Interactive Journals to meet clients’ needs.

    For an expressive writing tool with additional research-based support, consider Interactive Journaling®. Interactive Journals are designed to engage participants in the process of behavior change. Each Journal also draws on cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and the transtheoretical model of behavior change.

For more information on Interactive Journaling®, call The Change Companies® at 888-889-8866.