Empirical foundations for writing in prevention and psychotherapy: mental and physical health outcomes.

Clin Psychol Rev. 1999 Jan;19(1):79-96.

Esterling BA1, L’Abate L, Murray EJ, Pennebaker JW.

The use of writing, alone or in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy, has increased substantially in recent years. The most widespread use of writing has been for single-shot ad hoc purposes or to log behavior. The purpose of this review is to summarize a decade of research demonstrating the efficacy of writing about past traumatic experiences on mental and physical health outcomes. It is widely acknowledged in our culture that putting upsetting experiences into words can be healthy. Research from several domains indicates that talking with friends, confiding to a therapist, praying, and even writing about one’s thoughts and feelings can be physically and mentally beneficial. This review highlights advances in written disclosure that determine some therapeutic outcomes. In addition, we attempt to explore the mechanisms that predict improved psychological and physical health. Finally, limitations of previous studies are highlighted, and suggestions for future research and application are made.


Written disclosure: a way of coping with traumatic stress.

Nurs Stand. 1999 Jun 2-8;13(37):43-4.

Johal SS1, Bennett P.

Verbal debriefing after a traumatic incident may interrupt the natural adaptive processes that help people to deal with such incidents. This article examines the effectiveness of written interventions to help people experiencing distress after trauma experienced at work. As an alternative to critical incident debriefing, the authors recommend a staff education programme in tandem with written disclosure.


The effects of traumatic disclosure on physical and mental health: the values of writing and talking about upsetting events.

Int J Emerg Ment Health. 1999 Winter;1(1):9-18.

Pennebaker JW1.

Directly and indirectly, sudden life transitions can profoundly influence people’s social, family, physical, and psychological lives. One traditional goal within psychology has been to understand and develop ways by which to reduce the adverse impact of individual and collective traumas. Four major issues surrounding coping with emotional upheavals are discussed in the current paper. The first concerns the natural sequence of coping that occurs in most disasters. The second focuses on the advantages of talking about upsetting experiences and, conversely, the dangers of not talking about emotional upheavals. The third section, which has been central to our lab’s approach, deals with evidence that writing about upsetting experiences is beneficial to health and well-being. The final part of the paper discusses these findings within the context of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) debriefing strategies.


Effects of mode of writing on emotional narratives.

J Trauma Stress. 1999 Apr;12(2):355-61.

Brewin CR, Lennard H.

The authors hypothesized that writing longhand about a stressful experience, compared to typing, arouses greater negative emotion. Eighty college students were randomly assigned to describe either a neutral or stressful topic by typing or writing longhand, in a 2 x 2 factorial design. Students describing the stressful topic, compared to the neutral topic, wrote for a longer period, used more words, and reported greater negative and less positive affect. Consistent with prediction, writing about a stressful experience longhand induced greater negative affect than typing, and led to more self-rated disclosure. These findings suggest a method whereby therapists can help patients control their levels of negative affect when producing a trauma narrative.