The research behind writing as healing

Initially, Dr. James Pennebaker was curious about a study showing that people with secrets have more health problems, and he wondered if sharing those secrets would improve their health--and it did. But some secrets are too personal or painful to share, and Dr. Pennebaker found that just writing down the secrets, even if you immediately destroy the paper, had the same positive effect. And it also turns out that even those who don't have secrets per say but other kinds of emotional burdens--whether it's going through a divorce, handling the transition into college, coping with an abusive childhood, or dealing with a terminal illness--can relieve their traumas through writing. And the positive effects are wide-reaching and lasting. Those who write are sick less often, sleep better, or (for students) see improved grades.

Basically, after experiencing a trauma, our minds require extra processing power to make sense of the experience, which draws energy from other areas of our lives. By writing, we allow our minds to resolve the trauma and assimilate it, so we can be unburdened in our daily lives again. That can lead to better concentration, improved sleep, and more fulfilling relationships.


articles on Writing as healing

"Expressive Writing" by Dr. John Evans on the Psychology Today website has a useful, easy-to-read set of instructions for writing as healing.

"Writing to Heal" by Vive Griffith is a feature story on the University of Texas at Austin website about Dr. James W. Pennebaker and his work. It gives a detailed overview of his research and includes his instructions for writing as healing.

"Writing to Heal" by Bridget Murray is a cover story originally published in the Monitor on Psychology (the magazine of the American Psychological Association), now posted on the American Psychological Association website. It offers a balanced overview of many studies on writing as healing, including limitations and best practices.


books on writing as healing

Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions is Dr. Pennebaker's classic work on the research behind writing as healing, which also contains instructions on how to do this kind of writing.

Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo recaps Dr. Pennebaker's research and also includes writing as healing anecdotes from Dr. DeSalvo's memoir classes and her own life, as well as extensive research about writing as healing in a variety of literary works. It's inspiring, well-written, and informative.