Mood Charts: An impactful tool for raising self-awareness.
A mood chart is a simple, yet powerful, tool in psychotherapy. It is a way for clients to begin to get objective about themselves. By tracking mood on a daily basis they begin to see the possible causes or correlations between behaviors and mood dips. These connections aren’t always obvious unless one rises to a meta level through observation and recording.
I tell clients that this is where the science of psychology intersects with the practical utility of psychotherapy. Science is all about making observations and gathering data for the purpose of making predictions. If a client can become “scientific” in this way they may be able to see patterns and causes that were otherwise hidden.
The mood chart I use is simple. It requires no narrative writing. It asks the client to reflect on specific content areas often associated with depression or anxiety (e.g. amount of exercise, level of daily stress, etc.). There are several blank spaces for clients to add additional observations unique to their situation. I tell clients that more data is better and charting should last from three to six months in order to have enough information to see patterns and make predictions.
Many people find this kind of daily record keeping challenging. I suggest keeping the chart and a pencil next to their toothbrush or by their bedside table so it is easy to mark at the end of the day.
Those who are able to keep a mood chart find that this format builds valuable objectivity. This meta perspective provides advancement toward raising conscious awareness of self, even if patterns are not clearly and immediately visible. When patterns do emerge, the client gains new insights, insights that are personally relevant. They may see how their mood shifts over time and learn the impact of environmental or hormonal factors. They have a chance to see their own contributions to mood alteration based on their choices and behaviors. Clients may also come to understand the rhythm of their emotional cycles and begin to trust that their bad moods don’t last forever. Whatever the learning, it is gained by their own efforts and reflection.
There are several online mood tracking systems if one prefers to monitor using an electronic medium. A simple search of “mood tracking” will yield a variety of options. My paper and pencil version of a mood chart is available as a pdf in the Tools section of my website.