Articles

Expressive Writing: A Tool for Transformation, with Dr. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.

Rebecca Kochenderfer

08/12/2019

Dr. James Pennebaker

We recently sat down to interview Dr. James Pennebaker, a leading thinker on the impact expressive writing has on our physical and emotional well-being. His message is inspiring, and we are pleased to share it with you.

Dr. Pennbaker is a Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a social psychologist and the author of hundreds of articles and many books includingThe Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Opening Up by Writing It Down.

Listen to our interview on Journaling.com’s podcast, The Power of Journaling or read highlights of the interview (below).

Engage with Trauma and Grief in a Bold New Way

Expressive writing is a revolutionary act. It can be done anywhere, takes less time than a cup of coffee, it’s free, and, best of all, scientifically proven to improve how we process issues that compromise one’s quality of life.  

Dr. Pennebaker explains that expressive writing helps us reevaluate sources of grief or trauma. He refers to this process as “life course correction.” 

His suggestions are simple:

  • Set aside fifteen minutes for three or four consecutive days.
  • Use this time to write freely about a single issue that’s causing anxiety or pain.

Can Expressive Writing Help You?

Research shows that people who think, dream, or worry about a specific concern with intense regularity can benefit from expressive writing.

Expressive Writing Improves Health and Ensures a Better Night’s Rest

Since the 1980s, Dr. Pennebaker has measured the outcomes of expressive writing and discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

  • Stronger immune health
  • Better sleep habits
  • Improved mental health
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

Expressive Writing Helps Us Make Sense of Unexpected and Unimaginable Events

Why does expressive writing impact us in such meaningful ways? Dr. Pennebaker’s explanation makes perfect sense.

One of the brain’s functions is to help us understand events in our lives. Writing helps construct a narrative to contextualize trauma and organize ideas. Until we do this, the brain replays the same non-constructive thought patterns over and over and we become stuck.

Writing about grief and trauma helps achieve closure which tells the brain its work is done. This closure frees us to move forward.

Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to stand back and reevaluate issues in our lives.

Dr. James Pennebaker

You Can Start Expressive Writing Today

If you would like to incorporate expressive writing into your own journaling practice, Dr. Pennebaker offers the following ideas:

  • Write for fifteen minutes a day for three consecutive days. Give yourself enough time to write uninterrupted.
  • Identify a single issue you wish to address. Thoroughly explore the emotions and thoughts attached to this issue.
  •  Ask yourself why you are experiencing particular emotions. Connect the dots. How does this event relate to relationships or events in your past?

It’s Okay to Experiment and Play

Dr. Pennebaker explains there are different ways to maximize the benefits of expressive writing. Everyone is different. Play with methods and see what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Write with your non-dominant hand.
  • Finger write (mimic the act of writing without actually putting pen to paper).
  • Alternate between typing on a keyboard and pen and paper. Which do you prefer?

The key, Dr. Pennebaker explains, is to slow down our thinking. This shift in gears helps us to understand feelings in new and productive ways.  

Your Action Plan

For more ideas and information, listen to our interview.

If Dr. Pennebaker’s research has sparked your curiosity, I hope you’ll give expressive writing a try. And please do let us know how it goes. Share your experience with me at [email protected] or on our Facebook page.

Journaling.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Rebecca Kochenderfer

Founder of Journaling.com

About Rebecca Kochenderfer

Rebecca Kochenderfer is Journaling.com’s founder and host. She is the author of Joy Journal, an uplifting collection of journaling tips and techniques. Rebecca is honored to hold this space for the journaling community to connect, thrive, and grow. Fellow journalers can connect with Rebecca at  [email protected] or on Facebook and send her questions and stories about their own journaling experience. For press and advertising inquiries contact here.