There is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of Pennebaker’s ‘Expressive Writing’ paradigm as an adjunct to psychological therapy or as a self-help therapeutic intervention. Research, thus far, has predominantly focused on measuring, explaining and analysing the effects of ‘Expressive Writing’ as a therapeutic intervention through randomised controlled trials, paying little attention to the subjective experience of the individuals and the types of narratives people write. This doctoral research approaches ‘Expressive Writing’ from a narrative perspective, which argues that individuals construct their sense of self and create meaning of their own lives through the use of narratives. The aim of this thesis is to explore how people construct their sense of self through ‘Expressive Writing’. Following an adapted version of Pennebaker’s ‘Expressive Writing’ guidelines, six participants were asked to spend 50 to 60 minutes writing about an emotional life-changing event and then share their stories, and their experience of writing about their stories, in an hour-long interview. The study used qualitative methods of inquiry, namely narrative analyses to explore the process of the construction of sense of self in both the written and oral narratives. The emerged findings point to the natural tendency of people to write in a narrative form using culturally available narratives and highlight the dialogical nature of the intervention. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for Counselling Psychology practice, their contribution to theory, and suggestions for future research. Overall, this thesis suggests that Expressive Writing could be a valuable addition to Counselling Psychology practice, when used in line with the ethos and values of Counselling Psychology.
Int J Emerg Ment Health. 1999 Winter;1(1):9-18.
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.
Psychol Sci. 2006 Aug;17(8):660-4.
Writing about emotional experiences is associated with a host of positive outcomes. This study extended the expressive-writing paradigm to the realm of romantic relationships to examine the social effects of writing. For 3 consecutive days, one person from each of 86 dating couples either wrote about his or her deepest thoughts and feelings about the relationship or wrote about his or her daily activities. In the days before and after writing, instant messages were collected from the couples. Participants who wrote about their relationship were significantly more likely to still be dating their romantic partners 3 months later. Linguistic analyses of the instant messages revealed that participants and their partners used significantly more positive and negative emotion words in the days following the expressive-writing manipulation if the participants had written about their relationship than if they had written about their daily activities. Increases in positive emotion words partially mediated the relation between expressive writing and relationship stability.
Last but not least, James W Pennebaker (University of Texas at Austin, USA) began the last keynote of the 2017 conference by discussing his early work exploring the links between emotion, language and health; which culminated in his finding that expressive writing interventions can improve both physical and mental health. He went on to focus on his current research studying how the use of everyday language reflects personality, with a particularly fascinating analysis of the linguistics of US presidential debates.