The efficacy of a brief internet-based self-help intervention for the bereaved.

Behav Res Ther. 2010 May;48(5):359-67. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.12.009. Epub 2009 Dec 23

Research so far has shown little evidence that written disclosure facilitates recovery from bereavement. There are good reasons to assume that written disclosure may only benefit those bereaved who are at risk for developing problems or who are experiencing significant psychological problems as a result of their loss, and only when appropriate writing instructions are used. Drawing on previous work in the area of post-traumatic stress, a writing intervention was designed to test these assumptions. Bereaved individuals, who were still significantly distressed by their loss, were randomly assigned to the intervention condition (N = 460) or a waiting-list control condition (N = 297). Both groups filled in questionnaires online at baseline, and 3 and 6 months later. The intervention was administered via e-mail immediately after baseline measurement. Results showed that writing decreased feelings of emotional loneliness and increased positive mood, in part through its effect on rumination. However, writing did not affect grief or depressive symptoms. Contrary to expectations, effects did not depend on participants’ risk profile or baseline distress level. Implications of these findings are discussed.

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.

Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms.

Depression-vulnerable college students (with both elevated prior depressive symptoms and low current depressive symptoms) wrote on 3 consecutive days in either an expressive writing or a control condition. As predicted, participants scoring above the median on the suppression scale of the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (Gross & John, 2003) showed significantly lower depression symptoms at the 6-month assessment when they wrote in the expressive writing versus the control condition. Additional analyses revealed that treatment benefits were mediated by changes in the Brooding but not the Reflection scale of the Ruminative Response Scale (Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991). A “booster” writing session predicted to enhance treatment benefits failed to have a significant effect.


Gortner EM1, Rude SS, Pennebaker JW.


Behav Ther. 2006 Sep;37(3):292-303. Epub 2006 May 30.

Expressive writing for trauma: initial results


The DCIHR research team recently completed a study on expressive writing for trauma. This study examined the impact of a 6-week expressive writing course led by John Evans, EdD, on measures of resilience, perceived stress, rumination, and depression in a population of 39 individuals who self-identified as having experienced a traumatic event within the past year. Initial data analysis suggests that the writing intervention had a positive, clinically significant effect on all outcome measures; further data analysis is ongoing.