Articles

Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD

Rebecca Kochenderfer

04/17/2020

Lucia Capacchione, PhD

From the moment our interview with today’s guest began, it was clear this would be the first conversation of many. Lucia Capacchione, PhD, ATR, REAT is an extraordinary thinker, art therapist and pioneer in the fields of expressive arts therapy and journal therapy. Her knowledge of these topics is wide and deep.

Lucia is the bestselling author of 23 books on journaling using drawing and writing. She originated The Creative Journal method and bilateral journaling: drawing and dialoguing with both hands. Her books include The Creative Journal, The Power of Your Other Hand, and Recovery of Your Inner Child. She has created Creative Journal programs for schools (K – 12), cancer support groups, and trainings for educators and mental health professionals. Lucia has a private practice and is director of Creative Journal Expressive Arts Certification Training for Professionals. 

We sat down to discuss how journaling with our non-dominant hand can help address anxiety, stress, relationship dynamics, and physical pain.

To learn more about Lucia’s groundbreaking work, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD


From first-hand experience, Lucia knows the power of journaling, and she credits the practice with saving her life. At age 35, Lucia became so ill she was bedridden. The medications prescribed did not help, and her condition remained a medical mystery for many years. In desperation, she turned to the journal she’d just begun keeping.  It was there that she could unload the anxiety and confusion she was feeling.  

Lucia began to write her feelings out and grew fascinated as she realized the ways journaling contributed to her growth and understanding.

In time, the source of Lucia’s ill health was discovered. She recovered and went on to become an art therapist. When she began this work, she immediately started assigning clients journaling prompts as a means to tap into their subconscious. Her book The Creative Journal features the prompts she used along with art from her students and clients.

Journaling Improves Health

Having survived her own health crisis, Lucia became interested in James Pennabaker’s ground breaking research that showed journaling’s impact on the immune system.

Dr. Pennebaker asked one group of people to journal about trivial events while a second group was asked to journal about personal crisis and trauma. Blood tests were administered before and after the writing sessions. Those who wrote about a crisis were found to have heightened immunity whereas no changes were detected in the blood of those who had jotted down trivial events of the day.

Since this finding, there have been a multitude of studies that show the impact of journaling on physical health, including one that showed patients who journal before surgery heal more quickly. Lucia explains that when our emotions are not released they become somatized. Journaling helps us connect with and extract strong emotions so that they do not make us ill.

Writing with Your Non-dominant Hand

Lucia explains that the value of journaling with the non-dominant hand is it provides access to the right side of the brain which specializes in emotional expression and intuition. She contrasts this with the left hemisphere which is the verbal center of our brain.

The limbic system is the part of our brain that controls our physical and emotional responses to stimuli.  Lucia describes this region as a gating mechanism and explains that using the non-dominant hand, unrooted in verbal expression, helps us access this system and get to the heart of the issues we need to explore.

When we write with our non-dominant hand, we use both side of the brain. Lucia explains how we pull words and language from the left brain and run it through the corpus collepsum which is the part of the brain that establishes communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. In effect, we are synthesizing language and our deepest thoughts and emotions.

Manage Stress

In her book, Drawing Your Stress Away, Lucia provides journaling and drawing prompts to help us manage stress. She shares an example.

  • Scribble your heart out. Start scribbling on scrap paper. Begin with your non-dominant hand. Use crayons and fat markers. The stress you carry will begin to pour out. Do this for as long as you like. Note that it’s the movement on the paper that releases stresses.
  • Dance on paper. When you feel finished with the first step, put on some calming music. Use both hands and imagine they are performing a duet. Resume scribbling, but this time allow the music to flow through you and inform the movement and markings you make on the paper. Avoid the temptation to draw pictures. Leave only tracks that represent the movement of the music through your body and onto the paper. Feel the stress leaving.

Lucia notes that this can be a meaningful exercise to practice with children. It’s applicable to people and at any age.  

Manage Anxiety and Depression

Lucia’s work proves that strong emotions and feelings can be released by drawing them out.  To combat anxiety and depression she suggests drawing a picture of the issues you wrestle with. Do this with your non-dominant hand.

For example, a person who is feeling boxed in, Lucia suggests, would draw an image of themselves in a box. Next, they engage in a dialogue with the image.  It would look something like this:

Dominant hand writes: What are you?
Non-dominant hand answers:  I’m you stuck in a box. 

Dominant hand writes: How do you feel?
Non-dominant hand answers: I feel shut down. I feel locked up.

Dominant hand writes: What’s making you to feel this way?
Non-dominant hand answers:  You are putting me in all of these different boxes and schedules. I’m tired.

Dominant hand writes: How can I help you?
Non-dominant hand answers: I want to stop doing things that don’t fulfill me. I want to start exercising and painting.  

Manage Your Health

Lucia recommend similar methods when addressing physical health. She shows how we can talk to individual body parts to manage symptoms.  

  • Lie down. Notice the areas of your body where you experience discomfort.
  •  Draw a picture of your body, and color the areas where you eperience pain.  
  • If there is pain in your shoulder talk with it:
    What are you?
    What’s causing this?
    What can be done about it?

Manage Relationships

In her book The Power of Your Other Hand, Lucia explains the physiology of writing and growing with your non-dominant hand and shows how this can impact our relationships in significant ways.

  • Sit down and imagine you are having a conversation with someone significant in your life.
  • With your dominant hand, express your feelings: “I’m angry that you walked away in the middle of our conversation last week.”
  • Put the pen in your non-dominant hand and write what the other person would say. “I left because I was scared. I thought you were going to start blaming me.”

In her work, Lucia has observed that all kind of insights come up using this method to help us better understand another person’s perspective. 

The Future of Journaling

If journaling is a tool you rely on, you are not alone!  With happiness, Lucia predicts the future for journaling is bright. “I do book signings, and when I am in bookstores they always put me in front of a wall of blank books. I always tell my audience that when I started speaking about journaling many years ago, there weren’t any blank books in the bookstores. You had to go to an art store to get something to journal in. Now there are all these beautiful options.”

It’s Lucia’s dream to take journaling to public schools. The research shows that journaling helps students manage disruptive behaviors, test-taking anxiety, and positively impacts the social atmosphere in classrooms.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Deborah Ross in which we discuss journaling’s effects on the brain.

Rebecca Kochenderfer

Founder of Journaling.com

About Rebecca Kochenderfer

Rebecca Kochenderfer is Journaling.com’s founder and host. She is the author of Joy Journal, an uplifting collection of journaling tips and techniques. Rebecca is honored to hold this space for the journaling community to connect, thrive, and grow. Fellow journalers can connect with Rebecca at  [email protected] or on Facebook and send her questions and stories about their own journaling experience. For press and advertising inquiries contact here.

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