Experts Explain How Words Can Heal

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • gard


    July 10th, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    When they are just words they don’t necessarily mean anything. But putting some thought into them and getting behind their true meaning, that is where the real learning and the real changing is to begin. So that is why the reflection part of this process is so important. It makes you think about what you have to say, and to make some meaning out of what can sometimes just be drivel end on end.

  • Gena s

    Gena s

    July 11th, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    Writing down my feelings has always been so therapeutic for me. When you speak it the words emerge from your mouth and then they are gone. But writing them down, that it something sepcial and lasting and there for all time. The pages can be destroyed but the feeling that you put into writing them down will not go away.

  • Meg


    July 11th, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Writing down things about a trauma or a feeling of hurt can really help me as I have discovered in the past. It’s almost like you’re talking and letting out everything to a friend, a trusted friend who will never snitch on you.

  • A Henderson

    A Henderson

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    I believe writing a journal can help but I guess I’m just to lazy to maintain one.But I find that web reading a book or article on a topic that interests you or is bothering you presently can help.Just my 0.02 :)

  • Vincent Payne

    Vincent Payne

    July 12th, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    I think letting it all out, whether on paper or by talking with a friend or professional therapist, is crucial if you want to move on with your life after a trauma. A problem shared is a problem halved, even if the only one you share it with is your journal.

    I find writing a great outlet for my emotions and I’m the last person on earth you would have thought would be willing to pick up a pen.

  • stevie perry

    stevie perry

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    Putting things on paper puts them more into perspective I feel. The other advantage is that writing it down helps you gain a clearer outlook on what happened. You have to organize your thoughts in order to write them down and in doing so it brings more clarity to the situation.

  • Rosemary Fletcher

    Rosemary Fletcher

    July 12th, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    The power of self-reflection should not to be underestimated. Our lives are so busy and fast-paced now that few take the time to do so.

    When you slow down and look within, it’s amazing what you can discover about yourself and there’s no better method to do that than to write about it imho.

  • jon ross

    jon ross

    July 14th, 2011 at 12:17 AM

    The more stress you can get off your back the better.

    It’s funny we have laws that are there to protect our health and wellbeing yet putting a man or woman under extreme stress isn’t considered a form of assault. It should be when you consider all the complications that come with that.

    Any method that’s open to you should be taken advantage of.

  • T.B.


    July 15th, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    I don’t get why a person would be very stressed over keeping something secret if it’s easy to hide. Unless you have dark spots spreading all over your arms and face, nobody is going to think you have skin cancer, are they?

    When the problem isn’t visible, you can just not talk about what don’t want people to know.

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