Pennebaker & expressive writing

DSC03302The BBC Radio 4 series Mind Changers looks at people in psychology theory/research who have had a profound effect on the field. The first programme talked to Professor James Pennebaker (subsequent programmes include Maslow, Anna Freud – august company). Pennebaker is the person who has done most to establish the evidence for the benefits of expressive writing on health. Researchers from many fields of psychology pay tribute to his work.

In the 1970s he made the connection between early experiences of trauma experiences and subsequent experience of eating disorders, concluding that ‘Keeping secrets is bad for your health’ . He went on to test, in clinical trials, the efficacy of expressive writing as a means of improving physical health .

His results continue to provide the evidence that those of us who work in the field need so much.

Subsequent studies have found that writing about your thoughts and feelings for as little as 4 days can have all sorts of benefits – on mental & physical health, on work and social relationships.

A typically wry Pennebaker comment: “People who keep diaries are sicker than people who don’t! Just as people who take medicine are sicker than those who don’t. But they’d be much sicker without them.”

Pennebaker advice: Don’t get into a ruminative, cycle of thinking; just labelling your feelings in writing can help.

Putting it into a coherent narrative helps.

Journal Prompt: Pennebaker suggests that you……..

Ask yourself if there is something preoccupying you, taking up too much space in your mind.

Spring growth
Spring growth

Promise yourself that this writing is just for you (that you can destroy what you write).

Write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for 4 days.

Write about your thoughts and feelings as well as the topic itself.

Have you used the Pennebaker method?

4 thoughts on “Pennebaker & expressive writing”

  1. Hi Carolyn, the Pennebaker method is an approach to trauma – see his book Opening Up for more details. He’s one of the ‘greats’ in this field and rare because he provides ‘hard’ evidence.


  2. Yes, Carolyn – the connection was new to me and there must be more information if we delve back into the 70s archives. Do listen to the programme and let me know what you think.
    I know, the last few feet of snow were too much.


  3. Kate,

    This is the first time I’ve heard Pennebaker and eating disorders in the same sentence. Of course, my inner ears perked right up. And I’ll do some follow-ups on the articles you refer to. Big thanks! You are a treasure trove.

    Hope all is well. I am happy in today’s sunshine! xo, Carolyn


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