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  • Cited by 8
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

16 - The Healing Powers of Expressive Writing

Summary

Over the past 20 years, the value of expressive writing has made the transition from anecdotal folk wisdom to a large and growing body of scientific research. Specifically, expressing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event can improve one's mental and physical health (Frattaroli, 2006; Pennebaker, 1997; Smyth, 1998). As social and health psychologists, we give an overview of this line of research that began in the 1980s and has continued to proliferate up to the present. We now know that writing can have an impact on a broad range of physiological, physical, and mental states across many types of people. Non-health-related benefits have also been uncovered, and these are discussed as well. After describing the standard expressive writing paradigm and its application to creative writers, we discuss the role that language plays in this picture, including how language use can predict health benefits.

THE EXPRESSIVE WRITING PARADIGM

The procedure is simple and straightforward: Participants are asked to reflect on their deepest thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event. In the original studies, participants were randomly assigned to write about either an emotional topic or a control topic for 15 to 20 minutes each session for three to five sessions completed over the course of several days or weeks. One writing session was completed per day, and participants were often given the freedom to decide what time of day to write.

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