Psychological impact of writing about abuse or positive experiences.

Violence Vict. 2005 Dec;20(6):717-28.

Antal HM1, Range LM.

Writing often helps people deal with trauma. To see if writing about childhood physical or sexual abuse, or positive experiences, helps, psychology undergraduates wrote for 20 minutes on 4 days about their abuse, a positive experience, or a trivial topic. Among 102 who began and 85 who completed pre-, post-, and 4-week follow-up measures of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideas, abuse writers were more likely to discontinue, and positive writers were more depressed and anxious. Compared to pretest, all completers were less depressed, anxious, and suicidal at follow-up, but nonsignificantly different in health visits. Completers who wrote about abuse rated the study as more valuable than did those who wrote about positive experiences. College students who wrote about childhood physical or sexual abuse benefited from any type of structured writing assignment (where they interacted with a researcher and got extra credit) in terms of reduced anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideas, but they found value in writing about their trauma more than writing about innocuous topics.


Examining explanatory mechanisms of positive and expressive writing: Towards a resource-oriented perspective

The Journal of Positive Psychology

Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice

Volume 11, 2016 – Issue 2

Pages 124-134


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This study tested the hypothesis that benefits of positive and expressive writing accrue when the intervention matches or activates the participant’s personal resources. Students were randomly assigned to keep a newly developed resource diary (RD, n = 114), which asked the participants to write about positive experiences and personal resources, or an expressive writing diary (ED, n = 114), which asked the participants to engage with negative emotional experiences, at home on three consecutive days per week for four weeks. Participants keeping the RD perceived significantly more social support and reported a significantly better mood at post-test than participants keeping the ED. Compared to a control group (n = 81) treatment effects of both writing interventions were higher for participants with lower pre-test values of well-being and brooding as well as for participants who wrote in an ‘atmosphere of activated resources.’ It is suggested that research should move away from testing deficit-compensating hypotheses towards a stronger resource orientation.

Expressive writing and positive writing for participants with mood disorders: An online randomized controlled trial

Karen A.BaikieaLiesbethGeerligsabKayWilhelmab


Journal of Affective Disorders

Volume 136, Issue 3, February 2012, Pages 310-319
he following questionnaires were completed online: Centre for Epidemiological Studies—Depression Scale (CES-D), Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), Pennebaker Inventory of Limbic Languidness (PILL), overall health questions, Temperament and Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) and COPE Inventory (COPE). Participants then wrote for 20 min on 4 occasions, and then completed follow-up questionnaires.
The expressive writing, positive writing and time management control writing groups all reported significantly fewer mental and physical symptoms for at least 4 months post-writing. When expressive and positive writing groups were combined, the resulting `emotional writing group’ showed significantly lower scores on the DASS stress subscale than the control writing group at all time-points. Potential reasons are discussed and areas of further study identified.

Writing about life goals vs writing about trauma

King continued her exploration of writing about self-regulatory topics with a 2001 study comparing the health benefits of writing about trauma with writing about life goals. Her findings: Results indicate that writing about life goals is another way to enjoy the health benefits of writing without the emotional costs. Indeed, writing about one’s life goals was associated with feeling less upset, more happy, and getting sick less often. . . . [T]he physical benefits . . . were equal to or better than writing about trauma, whereas writing about a traumatic life event also entailed feeling upset and experiencing lowered mood. . . . It may be possible to enjoy the benefits of writing without necessarily writing about trauma at all (805).

(p. 29).

From “Your Brain on Ink”