Amanda Enayati, a contributor to CNN, received a life altering diagnosis, and found herself compelled to write about it. Realizing months later the therapeutic effect of the writing, she interviewed Dr. James Pennebaker, professor of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who had done extensive research showing the powerful healing effects of writing, especially about traumatic events and secrets. In a recent article, Eneyati reveals much of what she learned from the professor. Pennebaker says, “”Major stressors in life influence physical health. There is absolutely no doubt that having a serious upheaval in your life is associated with potentially devastating biological changes: increased cardiovascular activity, lowered immune function, an increased risk of heart attacks. What secrets do is turn the pressure up that much more.”
Pennebaker began studying this connection in 1986. He researched the effect that revealing secrets through writing would have on people who had suffered traumas they had never revealed. He discovered that after they had written about their experiences, they visited the doctor much less frequently than the control group, who had only written about non-traumatic topics. Several more studies he conducted provided similar positive psychological and physical results. He realized that people who used positive words in their writing received the most benefits. He says, “Even if the person is saying ‘no one cares about me’ or ‘I don’t love anyone,’ that still means they’re thinking about a dimension of happiness. It’s better to say you’re not happy than to say you’re sad.”
Pennebaker also discovered that people who included self-reflection and tried to process their experiences through their musings also received the most benefits. He says, “”If you’re telling the same story over and over again, you won’t benefit and your friends will go crazy.” He adds, “It’s putting things together, the cause and effect, the self-reflection that makes a difference.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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