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Description: Have you ever heard that writing might be good for you? I do not mean that taking English classes is good for you (though it might be) but rather that writing about anything from past traumatic life events to future hopes and aspirations might actually not only help you cope with past trauma or plan a better future, but it may also improve your psychical and psychological health and wellbeing.  The work of James Pennebaker looked at using expressive writing as a means of helping individual struggling with symptoms of PTSD to deal with the traumatic events in their past and to hep them move into a better place of wellness and wellbeing. Since it early days the technique of expressive writing has been expanded to include other writing topics such as future life planning with results typically being reported to be positive and wide ranging, including positive changes in mental and physical heath and welling.  What are we to make of the breadth and depth of the findings reported relating to the positive effects of expressive writing? Well perhaps what we need is a systematic meta-analysis that gathers together the research data from a broad range of studies on expressive writing, focused on dealing with symptoms of PTSD, and tries to pol the results and closely examine not just the results of a number of studies on expressive writing by also the rigor , or lack thereof, with which the studies were designed and whether they were focused upon similar or diverse psychological conditions or situations. That is what a good metanalysis can do and as well it can potentially speak to the actual size of the effects of, in this case, expressive writing on the symptoms associated with PTSD. As you look through the original metanalysis research article linked below pay close attention to the questions it asks, the methodological issues it examines and at what it offers in the way of general findings regarding expressive writing. Oh and do not be daunted by the effect size math in the paper, just skip over that and read the written parts (unless you find it intriguing!).

Source: A Meta-Analysis of Expressive Writing on Posttraumatic Stress, Posttraumatic Growth, and Quality of Life, Jeffery Pavacic et al. Review of General Psychology (see full reference below)

Date: March 1, 2019


Article Link:

Meta-analytic studies can get a bit thick at times given that they are trying to pool the data from a, sometimes large, number of studies in ways that ensure that the right things are being pooled and that distinct things are looked at separately. One of the most interesting findings in this particularly meta-analytic study is that the effects for expressive writing were significantly stronger when the people in the studies were more rigorously screened for a PTSD diagnostic profile suggesting that the technique works better when it is more appropriately applied. Meta-analytic studies can help us get important things like the effectiveness and targeting of treatment programs right and ensure that what IS being done IS working for those that need assistance.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is Expressive Writing and what can/should it be used for?
  2. What is a meta-analytic study and why might it be important to do one (or many)?
  3. What is the relationship between meta-analytic studies and practice policies and ethical guidelines relating to therapy and treatment?

References (Read Further):

Pavlacic, J. M., Buchanan, E. M., Maxwell, N. P., Hopke, T. G., & Schulenberg, S. E. (2019). A Meta-Analysis of Expressive Writing on Posttraumatic Stress, Posttraumatic Growth, and Quality of Life. Review of General Psychology, 1089268019831645.

Kelson, J., Rollin, A., Ridout, B., & Campbell, A. (2019). Internet-Delivered Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Treatment: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 21(1), e12530.

Clinton, V., & Meester, S. (2019). A Comparison of Two In-Class Anxiety Reduction Exercises Before a Final Exam. Teaching of Psychology, 46(1), 92-95.

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological science, 8(3), 162-166.