The expression, “words are powerful’, tells many stories. What science continues to demonstrate is just how this power can translate into health. In 1986, James Pennebaker, University of Texas psychologist, conducted a landmark study of expressive writing with 46 college students. What he found surprised him; that after 3 months, a health indicator such as number of physician visits for illness decreased 43 percent in the expressive writing group. Today, several hundred articles exist in the scientific literature on the benefits of expressive writing. Diverse populations ranging from those surviving breast cancer, to pre-exam college students, to at-risk youth, trauma survivors, spouses of veterans, to arthritis patients have been studied and shown to benefit from expressive writing.
The common thread appears to be writing about emotional content and significant experiences, both positive and negative. Writing for health usually involves unedited, private material. Whether or not one keeps the journal is up to the writer, and merely a matter of preference. Some like to review and see evidence of personal growth (the “Wow, I got through that!” phenomenon), others like to destroy their writing. The simple act of putting words down is the change agent, whether it’s making meaning of events, gaining perspective, letting go of what continues to bother us or keep us up at night.
If you want to get started, check out Dr. Pennebaker’s page. The suggestions are clear and additional resources are provided. Why not start today?