Writing as Therapy? A Brief Look at “Expressive Writing” and its Benefits
by Matthew Lopatto
Expressive writing is an intervention for people that are dealing with difficult and stressful experiences in their lives. Dr. James Pennebaker devised this type of therapy in 1986, and expressive writing has become increasingly popular in psychological research over the last couple of decades. While expressive writing can come in many different forms, the instructions normally ask a person to write for somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes on consecutive days about traumatic or upsetting experiences (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). When subjects begin writing, they are asked to explore their deepest thoughts and emotions related to stressors (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). Depending on the study, writing instructions can limit subjects to discuss one specific stressor, or allow the writer to discuss any number of stressors in their life. The control group(s) may also vary, but typically control groups are writing about neutral topics in a non-emotional way (e.g., reporting the activities they did yesterday). The implementation of expressive writing is easy, with low to no cost. Although some expressive writing experiments are conducted in a laboratory or clinic, there are times when it is done in subjects’ homes (Henry et al., 2010). Regardless of setting, the writer is supposed to be in a quiet place, where there are no distractions. An example of the expressive writing paradigm is presented below:
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