Expressive Writing and Well-Being During the Transition to College: Comparison of Emotion-Disclosing and Gratitude-Focused Writing

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.

Variations in the spacing of expressive writing sessions.

Br J Health Psychol. 2008 Feb;13(Pt 1):15-21. doi: 10.1348/135910707X251171.

Chung CK1, Pennebaker JW.

In a test to determine whether a brief version of the expressive writing (EW) method was viable, 106 college students participated in an experiment dealing with the study of life transitions.


Individuals were randomly assigned to write for 15 minutes on three occasions: either three times separated by 10-min break (1-hour condition), 35-min break (3-hour condition), or 24-hour break (3-day condition).


Participants were randomly assigned to write about their thoughts and feelings about the transitions (N=80), or to describe daily behaviours surrounding the transitions in a non-emotional way (N=26).


The three emotional writing conditions did not vary in terms of their engagement with writing, their emotional reactions, short- or long-term reactions to the intervention. Compared to controls, those in the experimental conditions evidenced fewer symptom reports 9 months after writing.


The findings suggest that a brief 1-hour EW is more emotionally demanding, but that it has comparable effects on physical symptoms as the traditional 3-day method.