Expressive Writing



  1. b

    Barbara Burrows here … and I will start the comments. “Write on For Better Health” introductory program runs in June and Sept. I hope participants will share something of their experience in this comment section.

  2. Gordon Graham

    Hey Barb, I really enjoyed that. I wrote from start to finish. I think this type of therapy is great for me. See you tomorrow

  3. Marilyn McKague

    I found the evening helpful to focus on a particular area I am having trouble dealing with. I did not find it as cathartic as I had hoped. I also found the amount of writing was hard with my arthritis and fibromyalgia. My shoulder was aching before the time was up.

    • barbb

      Possibly as we go on your experience will be more cathartic. It is possible, in the same way I got a headache while writing, that some of your physical pain is a manifestation of emotional pain. Would it be more comfortable to type? If you decide to continue, that might be worth trying.

  4. Peggi

    I found that I could write which surprises me because at the beginning I thought what the hell my going to write about, Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow

  5. Pat Hayden

    I thought the first night of this seminar was excellent. With the first prompts I had a little trouble beginning to write but as I got deeper into my thoughts and writing I found I didn’t want to stop. I’m feeling very sad right now but I understand that that is likely because the more I wrote, the deeper my thoughts traveled and the things that came to my mind weren’t very pleasant for me to think about.
    The major positive about this first writing session, for me, was this. My world is constantly filled with the things outside of me, this was the first time I can remember when I was truly alone with my thoughts and able to explore my inner most thoughts without any distractions or feedback. It felt kind of scary in a way but I realize now just how important and rare that is.
    Tonight was very productive for me, thanks so much, Barbara, I will be back tomorrow night for sure.

  6. barbb

    So – a question comes to mind regarding the webinar. Do you think sharing what you’ve written through anonymous discussion would be helpful? Thanks for any comments.

    • Pat Hayden

      Sharing anonymously what I wrote tonight? Not sure. What I wrote when I first began writing I don’t mind sharing, however as my writing progressed things kept coming to mind that I don’t feel comfortable sharing. At one point I didn’t want to continue because it upset me, but I pushed on, then didn’t want to stop. The ladder part I just can’t share.

  7. dale

    The exercise with the children’s pictures was so revealing. I never imagined as I began to write a fictional story (which I admit I wanted to reject doing. What’s the purpose? What difference could this make? I have no idea what just happened to this child!…my judge came storming in) the story quickly turned into mine…tears of knowing exactly what this child was thinking, feeling and why. then in my writing toheal parts of her storuy wove into my narrative…and I began to see…to understand…to see…into me

  8. barbb

    I am posting some of the comments from tonight’s webinar. The exercise was to write about what you thought had happened to the child in a picture.

    00:54:07 Mister P: My story is completely autobiographical, even though I wrote about a little girl.

    00:54:26 m: Absolutely it does , it is all about me and my life.

    00:55:14 G: I also saw the child I chose as myself in my story

    00:57:20 D: I wrote 5 lines about the little girl then tears began to flow I realized what I was saying applied to little girl

  9. Chris

    I found your prelude to the course, Barbara, very helpful .. about the mind: the ID, the unconscious, the ego, the superego and the conscious. Also your referring back to the ID has been helpful. I’m noticing the ability to go more deeply as our sessions progress. I too ‘thought’ I was writing about the child in the picture and soon began to see that the feelings and needs were my own inner child’s. Thank you for offering this course, Barbara. I’m thankful for your guidance alongside us in this process.

  10. Marilyn

    I found the writing was better on the second night, I did not get so tense and therefore had less pain and was able to finish the writing for the 20 minutes. Guess this is indicative of the effect the writing Monday night had on my body, tension, stress and pain. Thank you for doing this

  11. Marilyn

    Session 3 tonight seemed to get into deeper feelings and some old incidents came into my mind. I have been able to look at these thoughts with a bit more clinical view than ever before. Not causing me to feel as much anger, sadness or hurt, I see that others are hurting too.

  12. dale

    A deeply moving session tonight. Sorry to not have been with all of you in real time.
    When Writing to Heal time came my inner voice was saying “I’m finished writing about that I don’t have much more to say”
    Pen hit the paper and there I was plunged deeper into the trauma..feelings erupted…words flowed… images crashed onto my shores…tears pelted down. I was immersed

    so grateful for this process
    in my life

    • barbb

      Thank you so much for this feedback. It is helpful for me to know that the process is helpful to participants.

  13. Ann H

    Thank you, Barbara, for offering this uniquely self beneficial experience.
    Even after, actually especially after, I’ve been involved in psychoanalysis for a few years now, I’ve learned new and important things during this weeks expressive writing program. I’m also enjoying the group experience.
    1) writing down, in solitude, with total confidentiality and without feedback has been a new and incredibly freeing experience for me.
    2) the waiting in silence fo allow the space needed for my subconscious to release certain thoughts into my consciousness is definitely worth the struggle.
    3) I’m learning the importance of trying to recognize when I feel that resistance. It’s really a positive sign that something important is trying to surface and that it’s important to keep going.


Leave a Reply to dale Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A short video on the benefits of expressive writing

Information on Expressive Writing Course 

Can Writing help?

“Sometimes when you are writing, you say exactly what you need to hear.”  

(source unknown)

There are many people who suffer from physical and psychological issues relating to stress. 17% of Canadians aged 15 or older report having a need for mental health care (Sunderland & Findlay, 2013). Mental health is the number one cause of disability claims in Canada (The Mental Health Commission of Canada).

All forms of psychotherapy (from psychoanalysis to behavioural and cognitive therapies) have been shown to reduce distress and to promote physical and psychological wellbeing. (Mumford, Schlesinger, & Glass, 1983; Sobel, 1995).  However, it is very difficult to get publicly funded psychotherapy, as wait lists are long, and privately funded treatment is not an accessible and affordable option for many people.

Drug Therapies
Drug therapies are quick and affordable, but they may not be as safe as previously thought. For example, antidepressants are taken by 1 in 10 Americans aged 12 and over to address a variety of mental health issues (Pratt, Brody, & Gu, 2011). However, studies are showing that using antidepressants can have adverse effects, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular events and death (Almeida, Alfonso, Hankey, & Flicker, 2010; Smoller et al., 2009; Coupland et al., 2011).

Other Options (Expressive Writing)
Studies show that disclosing thoughts and feelings about a negative event or a difficult personal problem in writing has positive implications for physical and mental health (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; for a meta-analysis of the outcomes of EW, please see Fratarolli et al., 2006).

Physical health:

  • drops in physician visits (Cameron & Nicholls, 1996; Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Greenberg, Wortman & Stone, 1996; Francis & Pennebaker, 1992; Pennebaker, Colder, & Sharp, 1990)
  • boost immune function (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988; Petrie, Booth, Pennebaker, Davison, & Thomas, 1995; Christensen et al., 1996)
  • less physical pain (Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; Richards et al.,1995)
  • less days absent from work (Francis & Pennebaker, 1992)
  • even reduced alcohol intake, although changes in self-reported health behaviours aren’t always consistent (no reduced smoking or increased exercise though) (discussed in Pennebaker, 1997)
  • Psychological health:

  • improvements in mood over time (Smyth, 1996; Pascual-Leone et al., 2016)
  • less distress (Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Greenberg et al., 1996; Murray & Segal, 1994; Spera et al., 1994)

    Expressive Writing 
    Although the literature shows general improvements in various health outcomes related to EW, there are gaps in the literature and inconsistencies, as well as places where we need more research to understand the mechanisms behind how EW works.

    Some published studies on the benefits of expressive writing:

  • Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. 1997 Pennebaker Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.
  • Expressive Writing and Coping with Job Loss Stefanie P. Spera, Eric D. Buhrfeind and James W. Pennebaker 1994 Academy of Management Journal, 37, 722-733 
  • Expressive writing in psychotherapy: A tool to promote and track therapeutic change. Cummings, Jorden A.; Hayes, Adele M.; Saint, D. Sebastian; Park, Jeff – Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 45(5), Oct 2014, 378-386 
  • Expressive writing in a clinical setting. The Independent Practitioner, 30, 23-25. 2010 Pennebaker