Restorative Properties

Writing down one’s feelings about traumatic events has been repeatedly shown to have beneficial health effects, so much so that David Spiegel, MD, Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine has written about one study, “Were the authors to have provided similar outcome evidence about a new drug, it likely would be in widespread use within a short time. . . Ventilation of negative emotion, even just to an unknown reader, seems to have helped these patients acknowledge, bear, and put into perspective their distress.”1


Here are some findings from research reports:

  • “At four months post-treatment, both asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients who wrote about stressful events showed clear and dramatic health improvements.  These finding . . . suggest that written disclosure may be a useful adjunct to medical treatment.  Not only were these effects reliably observed four months after the structured writing, they also appear clinically meaningful.”2
  • J.W. Pennebaker, who has studied the therapeutic effects of journaling in healthy subjects for nearly two decades, writes, “After dozens of studies in multiple labs, I am now a true believer in the value of writing and disclosure.”3
  • Keeping a journal of one’s feelings about a traumatic experience, as well as the effort to mentally process that experience, can help people effectively work through it.”4

Newsweek, the New York Times, USA Today, and other major publications have run stories about the proven power of journaling. 5 The University of Michigan Health System Comprehensive Cancer Center provides extensive online information to patients about how and why to journal.6

Use/Application Consideration

  • Some researchers say that understanding traumatic events, and not just “ventilating” about them, makes a difference in the quality of outcomes from journaling: e.g., “Engagement of both thoughts and emotions while journaling about a stressful or traumatic experience can raise awareness of the benefits of the event,” say Philip M. Ullrich and Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa. “In contrast, focusing solely on the emotional aspects of traumas may not produce a greater understanding of traumatic events.”7
  • In one clinical experience, e-mail proved an effective means for therapeutic journaling.8
  • Not all medical professionals are persuaded that journaling has the healing powers that many ascribe to it.9

Resource Recommendations

The following books and articles are recommended, in addition to those cited in the footnotes.


Bolton, G., K. Calman, and T. Hughes. Therapeutic Potential for Creative Writing. (London: Jessica Kingsley, 1999)

DeSalvo, L. Writing as A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives (Beacon Press, 2000)

LePore, S.J., and Smyth, J.M.  The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotion Wellbeing (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2002)

Pennebaker, J.W. Emotion, Disclosure, and Health (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2002)

Pennebaker, J.W. Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (Guilford Press, 1997)


Pennebaker J.W., J.K. Kiecolt-Glaser and R. Glaser. “Disclosure of Traumas and Immune Function: Health Implications for Psychotherapy.” Journal of Consultative and Clinical PsychologyApr;56(2)( 1988):239-45


[1] Spiegel, D. “Healing Words: Emotional Expression and Disease Outcome” Journal of the American Medical Association, 281 (1999): 1328 - 1329.

[2] Smyth, J.M., Stone, A.A., Hurewitz, A., Kaell, A. “Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients with Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis, A Randomized Trial.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 281 (1999): 1304 - 1309.

[3] Pennebacker, J.W. “Inhibition, disclosure and health/Response.” Advances: Journal of Mind/Body Medicine, 15 (1999): 193 – 195.

[4] Luttgendorf, S., and Ullrich, P. “Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 24:2 (2002): 244-248

[5] See Kalb, C. “Pen Paper, Power! Confessional Writing Can Be Good for You.” Newsweek (April 26, 1999); Elias, M. “You’ve Got Trauma, but Writing Can Help” USA Today (June 30, 2002) []

[7] “Something to Write Home About: Journaling Can Help After Trauma” (August 19, 2002) Health Behavior News Service

[8] Strasser, F., M. Fisch, et. al. “E-motions: Email for Written Emotional Expression.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 20(2002): 3352-3355

[9] See, for example, Greenhalgh, T. “Writing as Therapy” British Medical Journal 319(1999):70-71

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