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Use of expressive writing to combat mental and physical health problems
Use of expressive writing to combat mental and physical health problems
Use of expressive writing to combat mental and physical health problems

Use of expressive writing to combat mental and physical health problems

Prof. James Pennebaker

Professionals: $60.00 CAD +tax
Students: $48.00 CAD +tax


On 1st February 2024, Professor Pennebaker delivered a 90-minute webinar on the use of expressive writing to improve mental and physical health problems. This on-demand workshop is a recording of that presentation.

Workshop Outline

Putting upsetting experiences into words is a centrepiece of most mental health interventions, whether in CBT and other therapies, prayer, or talking to friends. Since the mid-1980s, over 2,000 studies have been conducted using expressive writing to help people deal with stress, illness, anxiety, and variety of major and minor upheavals in their lives.
The purpose of this workshop is to explore how and why expressive writing works – both for mental health clients as well as for the professionals who treat them. Unlike other more formal therapies, expressive writing is a simple technique that simply involves writing about painful or anxiety-provoking topics for as little as a few minutes a day for 3-4 days. No formal training, no licensing, no trademark or copyright, no non-disclosure agreements, no standardized method, and no cost.


The workshop will cover a brief history of expressive writing: how it was discovered and the early findings. It will present a broad overview of the domains where expressive writing has been found to be effective, including improvements in objective markers of mental and physical health, changes in immune and autonomic functioning, and better sleep. Other studies have found writing results in expanded working memory and executive functioning, better work and school performance, and improvements in social connections. A theoretical explanation of the findings will be discussed, and it will be emphasized that there is no magic bullet. Rather, expressive writing results in a cascade of cognitive, biological, and social changes. A discussion will be held regarding potential adverse effects and a true awareness that the effects are modest but consistent. The webinar will end with tips on what writing techniques might work best for you or your clients. But most important is for the writer to draw on their “inner scientist” and see what works best for the individual - there is no one true way(!).

Learning Objectives

By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to: 

1. Understand the basic logic of expressive writing

2. Conduct expressive writing for themselves and provide guidance for others to try it

3. Approach expressive writing with an open mind while thinking both scientifically and creatively to figure out what does and does not work for both one’s self and one’s clients.

About the Presenter

Dr. James Pennebaker is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. His early research dealt with physical symptoms and health which eventually merged into the discovery of expressive writing. He and his students found that when people were asked to write about emotional upheavals for 3-4 days for 15-20 minutes a day, their physical and mental health improved compared to controls. Over 2,000 studies on expressive writing from labs around the world continue to show the value of this method. For the last 25 years, he has focused on computerized text analysis as a way of understanding and measuring people’s social behaviors and psychological states. His text analysis program, LIWC, is well known in psychology, business, and computer science.

Since receiving his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Texas, he has published over 300 articles and written or edited 12 books. He has received many awards and honors for research and teaching. He is among the most cited psychologists in the world. His most recent books are The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us (Bloomsbury, 2011) and Opening Up by Writing it Down (Guilford, 2016).

Training Modalities

This workshop will include didactic content, Q&A, and brief experiential training with expressive writing exercises.

Who should attend

This event is appropriate for anyone who has found themselves worrying or thinking too much about something or is harbouring painful secrets or feelings that are difficult to express to others. Should you not be one of these people, you might have a client who has.

Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Bespoke Mental Health Canada is approved by the Canadian Psychological Association to offer continuing education for psychologists. Bespoke Mental Health Canada maintains responsibility for the program. 
After viewing this workshop, participants will have the option to complete an evaluation form and a workshop knowledge quiz in order to be eligible to receive a certificate confirming the number of credits awarded. This certificate will be sent via email.
Participants who complete this webinar will be eligible to receive 1.5 CE credits.


Professionals: $60 CAD +tax
Students*: $48 CAD +tax
* Proof of student status may be required in order to qualify for a student rate.

Key References

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, 23(2), 230-250.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Smyth, J. M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down: How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. Guilford Publications.

Qian, J., Zhou, X., Sun, X., Wu, M., Sun, S., & Yu, X. (2020). Effects of expressive writing intervention for women's PTSD, depression, anxiety and stress related to pregnancy: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychiatry Research, 288, 112933.

Reinhold, M., Bürkner, P. C., & Holling, H. (2018). Effects of expressive writing on depressive symptoms—A meta‐analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25, e12224.

Sayer, N. A., Noorbaloochi, S., Frazier, P. A., Pennebaker, J. W., Orazem, R. J., Schnurr, P. P., ... & Litz, B. T. (2015). Randomized controlled trial of online expressive writing to address readjustment difficulties among US Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28, 381-390.

Travagin, G., Margola, D., & Revenson, T. A. (2015). How effective are expressive writing interventions for adolescents? A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 36, 42-55.

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