Writing to Heal


“Simply speaking the truth heals” ~ Dr Rachel Naomi Remen

For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. Pennebaker has been giving people an assignment: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days.

Dr Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial health effect on our emotional healing and even our immune systems.

Our minds are designed to try to understand things that happen to us. When a traumatic event occurs or we undergo a major life transition, our minds have to work overtime to try to process the experience.

As Dr Pennebaker explains:

Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.

When we give words to our experience, we are able to understand and process it better.

The Writing To Heal Exercise

Interestingly, Dr Pennebaker is not convinced that people should write about traumatic experiences for more than a couple of weeks.

You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity.But standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.

This raises a number of questions for some of us who are long term bloggers!  But perhaps it is the reason why may of us who have been blogging for a few years have changed direction or diversified in our posts – there’s only so many times you can repeat your story, before it’s time to move on.

Here is Dr Pennebaker’s writing to heal instructions and some tips for performing the exercise.



Perhaps you’d like to try it for a few days either privately or on your blog?  Do let me know what the experience was like for you. 


Images & notes sourced from The University of Texas at Austin feature story on Dr Pennebaker’s work.