The Writing Cure

May 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Many of us have grown up to believe that it is helpful to talk about a problem. But is a problem shared, a problem halved?

To investigate, Emmanuel Zech and Bernard Rime from the University of Louvain in Belgium carried out an intriguing, and important, study. A group of participants were asked to select a negative experience from their past. To make the study as realistic as possible, participants were asked to avoid the trivial stuff, like missing a train or not being able to find a parking space, and think instead about ‘the most negative upsetting emotional event in their life, one they still thought about and still needed to talk about’. From death to divorce and from illness to abuse, the issues were serious. One group of participants were then asked to have a long chat with a supportive experimenter about the event, while a second group were invited to chat about a far more mundane topic – a typical day. After one week, and then again after two months, everyone went back to the lab and completed various questionnaires that measured their emotional well-being.

Although the participants who had chatted about their traumatic experience thought it had been helpful, the questionnaires that they later completed showed otherwise: the chat had ‘no significant impact’.

So, if talking about negative experiences to a sympathetic but untrained individual is a waste of time, what can be done to ease the pain of the past?

In other studies, participants who had experienced a traumatic event were asked to write for a few minutes each day about their experience. In one study the participants had been made redundant and they were asked to record how their job loss affected their personal and professional lives.

Although these types of exercises were both speedy and simple, the results revealed that participants experienced a remarkable boost in their psychological and physical well-being, including a reduction in health problems and an increase in self-esteem and happiness.

Conclusion: Talking can often by somewhat unstructured, disorganized, even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work towards a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion while writing, provides a more symptomatic, and solution-based, approach.

The beneficial effects of writing things down is not just confined to negative experiences:  when it comes to an instant fix for everyday happiness, certain types of writing have a surprisingly quick and significant impact. Expressing gratitude, thinking about a perfect future and affectionate writing have been scientifically proven to work, and all they require is a pen, a piece of paper and a few moments of your times.

Richard Wiseman’s :59 seconds is the source of this information.


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