Expressive writing

James Pennebaker's pioneering work on expressive writing asked participants to write about stress/trauma for 20 minutes per day for 3-5 days.

Later research has explored different types of expressive writing, for example writing about intensely positive experiences or life goals.

Expressive writing leads to significant improvements in a range of outcomes including

  • fewer health centre visits
  • greater immune functioning
  • improvements in rheumatoid arthritis
  • adjustment to cancer and stroke

While the precise mechanisms for causing these changes have not been definitively identified, we have been exploring the application of this approach in two ways,

  • firstly the effect on health of its naturalistic and spontaneous use
  • secondly, in stimulating evolved affect regulation systems.

In terms of its naturalistic and spontaneous use, we are exploring changes in well-being in songwriters in a 2 year longitudinal study.

In terms of stimulating affect regulation systems we have been particularly interested in the affiliative system proposed by Paul Gilbert and have begun exploring how we can adapt the expressive writing paradigm to stimulate the development of self-soothing rather than self-criticism.

This work includes research with students as well as patients. We were also recently involved in a project with Company Paradiso, an arts-based charity, exploring the use of letter writing and song-writing in homeless people.

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