327 Writing & Reducing Trauma Impact

Researched by Pennebaker, James. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice. K., & Glaser, Ronald. (1988).

Written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

We usually keep our deepest feelings about traumatic events inside. What is the impact of writing down our feelings?

Researchers separated 50 undergraduates into two groups. For four days, one group wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic and upsetting experiences of their lives.  The other group did not share their thoughts or feelings but instead described assigned events or objects in detail.  Before and after their sharing, researchers tested participants’ immune functioning, blood pressure, heart rate and skin response.  Additionally, students completed questionnaires before and after to assess their mood and experienced symptoms. After 6 weeks students returned for follow up physiological and questionnaire assessments.

Writing about traumatic experiences, resulted in both positive physiological effects and less psychological distress after six weeks compared to individuals who did not. However, immediately after trauma writing, they exhibited more symptoms and negative mood. Thus, it is not easy to confront one’s difficult issues, but doing so brings longer term relief.

Keeping difficult experiences inside actually hurts you emotionally and physically.  To help understand a traumatic experience, try writing down your feelings and thoughts about it and it is likely to result in some relief from your distress and physical symptoms.


Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of Traumas and Immune Function: Health Implications for Psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology56(2), 239-245.

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