The big question that concerns people is whether "writing to heal" is somehow different than "talking to heal." In Writing to Heal, Dr. James Pennebaker, writes: "Does talking about a trauma work as well as writing about it? It depends. One study compared talking about a trauma into a tape recorder with writing. Both techniques were equally beneficial.
"Talking to someone about a trauma is far more complex than writing about it. To the degree the other person accepts you no matter what you say, and you can be completely honest in your disclosure, then talking may be more effective than writing. But here's the rub. If the person you confide in does not react favorably to you and to what you have to say, then talking may actually be worse for you than not confiding at all.
"What about writing and then reading what you have written to someone else? Same problem. If your audience doesn't react ideally to what you say, you may come away with even more negative feelings. The only study that found negative effects for emotional writing required trauma patients to write about their traumas and then read their stories to other people in a group. Contrary to the researchers' expectations, the public reading made the patients more depressed.
"...People usually don't talk about emotional upheavals because they fear others' reactions. The purpose of expressive writing is for you to be completely honest and open with yourself. Your audience is you and you alone.
"...Unlike every paper you wrote in school, expressive writing doesn't need to be read by anyone. In a study in our lab several years ago, we asked students to write about a trauma either on regular paper or on a child's Magic Pad. (Remember Magic Pad?) You write on a sheet of gray plastic, and when you lift the sheet, all the writing disappears. The same benefits accrued."
On Monday I'll discuss Poetic Medicine by John Fox. Stay tuned!