The Puzzling Way That Writing Heals The Body
Can writing about pain and secret feelings really help boost your body’s immune system?
In 1986 the psychology professor James Pennebaker discovered something extraordinary, something which would inspire a generation of researchers to conduct several hundred studies. He asked students to spend 15 minutes writing about the biggest trauma of their lives or, if they hadn’t experienced a trauma, their most difficult time.
They were told to let go and to include their deepest thoughts, even if they had never shared these thoughts before. Four days running they did the same thing. It wasn’t easy. Pennebaker told me that roughly one in 20 students would end up crying, but when asked whether they wanted to continue they always did. Meanwhile a control group spent the same number of sessions writing a description of something neutral such a tree or their dorm room.
Then he waited for six months while monitoring how often the students visited the health center. The day he saw the results, he left the lab, walked to his friend who was waiting for him in a car and told him he’d found something big.