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.
Expressive writing (EW) can be a useful supplement to psychotherapy, regardless of therapeutic orientation. In an open trial of exposure-based cognitive therapy for depression, 43 participants used EW before each session, producing 928 EW samples. Using examples from these, we discuss how EW can be used to both promote and track therapeutic change. Specifically, we review the impact of EW on therapeutic growth, via self-monitoring, increased awareness, and exposure/emotional processing. We then discuss how EW can be used to track important predictors of change such as symptoms, therapeutic alliance, social support, avoidance, and hopelessness. We conclude by discussing potential limitations to the use of EW in therapy and by recommending specific strategies for incorporating EW into clinical practice.