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Expressive Writing: Words that Heal

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Expressive Writing: Words that Heal provides research results, in layman's terms, which demonstrate how and when expressive writing can improve health. It explains why writing can often be more helpful than talking when dealing with trauma, and it prepares the reader for their writing experience. The book looks at the most serious issues and helps the reader process them. From the instructions: "Write about what keeps you awake at night. The emotional upheaval bothering you the most and keeping you awake at night is a good place to start writing." Includes:

* A basic four-day, 20-minute daily writing session program.

* A six-week writing program using a different technique each week.

* Additional techniques for expressive writing

* Instructions on how to analyze what was written

208 pages, Paperback

First published April 14, 2014

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About the author

James W. Pennebaker

26 books146 followers
James Pennebaker is an American social psychologist and husband of Ruth Pennebaker. He is the Centennial Liberal Arts Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. His research focuses on the relationship between natural language use, health, and social behavior, most recently "how everyday language reflects basic social and personality processes"

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5 stars
72 (28%)
4 stars
103 (40%)
3 stars
58 (22%)
2 stars
18 (7%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
July 26, 2014
This book is a must-read for writers, people who want to become writers, and anyone who is trying to overcome past traumas. As a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, it was initially difficult for me to "just write"; even about my most basic of emotions. It's so ingrained in my nature to write, re-read, edit, delete, re-write, so and and so forth. So you can imagine how large of a switch it was for me to just start writing; about anything, everything, whatever popped into my head at the moment and just "go with it".
This book teaches excellent skills for using your writing as a way to heal your own soul and I found it to be very helpful. It allowed me to explore my thoughts on a deeper level, get out emotions that have been pent-up so long I didn't realize they were even there, and gave me a better sense of peace after keeping up with the daily writing exercises.
I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Owlseyes .
1,670 reviews269 followers
Want to read
February 25, 2017
Mad Girl's Love Song

"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

from Book: The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

Total number of "I"'s: 17.


you've found a note with the words:

"I'm placing it on the table"

So: 2 content words: "placing" and "table";
and 4 function words:

-who is "I"? (function word)
-and "am", ...when was it written? (function word)
-"it", what it is? (function word)
-"on the" (function word)

-BUT, "the table" is one the author knew about, AND THE RECIPIENT of the message too. So, function words are social.

"Harnessing the power of those function words we can get a sense of individuals and groups and how people are connecting".

Notes from:
The Secret Life of Pronouns: James Pennebaker at TEDxAustin
in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGsQw...
Profile Image for Ors.
74 reviews4 followers
January 8, 2023
Good stuff. I read it cuz I needed to (I'll have my Introduction to poetry therapy exam in 4 days, wish me luck 🤞). But I started to do the writing exercises - I'm done with the four-day program and I feel relieved - I sure as hell will do the rest of the excercises too. If you feel the slightest spark of openness to write, grab this book and start writing. It indeed has a healing potential.

(Note: I hope it's no need to say, but it ofc can't be a substitute for therapy.)
(Note2: if all goes well, you can come to me to therapy within 1.5 years, woohoo)
Profile Image for kit.
386 reviews13 followers
March 17, 2019
this is a surprise of a self-help book. research based, not promising panacea, complete with responsible caveats. it's given me quite a lot of ideas for furthering my writing practice. my main complaint is that the latter sections of the book are incredibly unimaginative. still, i can see this being helpful to some folks.
Profile Image for Hayley.
11 reviews
May 5, 2018
Great if you're after a workbook with lots of exercises!
Profile Image for Lena.
224 reviews33 followers
August 3, 2022
Gdyby temat był mi całkowicie obcy, po tej książce założyłabym, że to strasznie pokomplikowana i pochłaniająca masę czasu metoda. A tak nie jest. Ja, która uwielbiam czytać o pisaniu, byłam tą książką znudzona, przytłoczona i przesycona powtarzaniem ciągle tego samego – z mikrozmiennymi, które pojawiają się w nas organicznie w miarę ekspresyjnego pisania, więc chyba nawet nie ma sensu o nich wspominać. 2,5 zaokrąglone do 3, bo jedna i dwie gwiazdki są zarezerwowane dla naprawdę kiepskich doświadczeń czytelniczych, a w tym wypadku książka nie była zła, tylko niepotrzebnie rozwlekła ;)
Profile Image for Alia Makki.
425 reviews33 followers
September 4, 2017
“Expressive writing can be a valuable tool in helping people to deal with traumas and emotional upheavals. Whereas many people can benefit greatly from writing, others don’t. If after writing, you feel as though you haven’t reaped any benefits or if you still need help in coping with your experience, please seek the advice of a physician, psychologist, or counselor.”

That said, you know how the world responds to you when you’re ready? When the teacher arrives when the student is ready to learn? The way books work is that, you know things yourself first, then there will come the books and mentors who will verify what you already know.

What I learned from this book is that I’ve been writing expressively, the wrong and right ways of doing it, since I was a kid. Which is probably why reading and writing have been my most constant source of self-medication and addiction.

The Universe reacts to us. If we are quiet enough to pay attention, we might see, hear and experience the Universe’s cogs and gears moving.

One way of getting quiet enough to stomach the Universe’s vastness is by mapping it all out in writing. Suddenly, after about a trillion words into my rambling journals, I read a book by someone else who sees the point in writing privately, tirelessly. We’re just trying to control the world, one secretive sentence at a sigh.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,002 reviews
June 3, 2015
I skimmed through this book. Sometimes helpful, but often obtuse. Will use as a resource.
July 18, 2022

Me sucedió algo muy peculiar al leer este libro. En un primer momento, me pareció que no era nada fuera de lo común; incluso, algunas partes me parecieron aburridas o muy repetitivas. Sin embargo, al hacer una relectura de los apartados que me parecieron más relevantes, mi valoración del libro cambió de forma positiva, considerando su información como valiosa y relevante.

Creo que este cambio se debe a cómo el libro está estructurado: debido a que contiene muchas instrucciones para los diferentes ejercicios, leerlo de corrido se vuelve algo tedioso; pero si se aborda de forma seccionada y dosificada, puede ser una experiencia muy gratificante.

En mi opinión, el mayor provecho se puede sacar leyendo la primera parte de este libro de forma completa, pero luego, las partes II y III leerlas de manera selectiva, enfocándose en las temáticas que sean más interesantes y realizando los ejercicios de forma paralela.

Es un libro que recomendaría a personas que les gusta la escritura, o a terapeutas que quieran incorporar esta actividad a su repertorio de técnicas.


Something very peculiar happened to me when I read this book. At first, it seemed to me that it was nothing out of the ordinary; some parts even seemed boring or very repetitive. However, when I reread the sections that I found most relevant, my assessment of the book changed in a positive way, considering its information as valuable and relevant.

I think this change is due to the way the book is structured: because it contains many instructions for the different exercises, reading it all at once becomes tedious; but if approached in a sectioned and dosed way, it can be a very rewarding experience.

In my opinion, you can get the most out of it by reading the first part of this book in its entirety, but then read parts II and III selectively, focusing on the most interesting topics and doing the exercises in parallel.

It is a book that I would recommend to people who like writing, or to therapists who want to incorporate this activity into their repertoire of techniques.
Profile Image for Desiree Middleton.
Author 11 books2 followers
August 27, 2023
a wonderful book to help you heal

If you have any trauma in your life, this book will help. NOTE:If you have severe trauma, have a support system closer than a phone call away as you go through the writing exercises! You’ll uncover things you’d forgotten and they can be re-traumatic.
Profile Image for Genara.
22 reviews
April 22, 2020
Not what I was expecting to read. This is not a book to help aspiring writers as I once read in a review. This is a way for you to do a self-therapy, although its effectiveness is questionable. Found it repetitive and the assignments quite boring.
Profile Image for Agnès.
145 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2021
Directo y simple, con instrucciones para varios tipos de ejercicios de escritura. Me ha parecido bien fundamentado, no simple charlatanería, los autores son conscientes de que estos ejercicios no lo curan todo, pero pueden ayudar en algunos casos.
Profile Image for Kay.
36 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2018
This provides an approachable text on an interesting technique I use in my work.
Profile Image for Sinead.
976 reviews11 followers
October 15, 2021
As others have said, the first section of the book is probably the most important as after that it becomes repetitive. But a decent resource all the same.
Profile Image for Doranne Long.
Author 1 book25 followers
December 2, 2014
I think wonderful book is a powerful tool, with great potential for "using expressive writing to overcome traumas and emotional upheavals, resolve issues, improve health, and build resilience." The authors talk about the health benefits of writing; they act as coaches to assist in actual writing experiences, with specific day-by-day instructions. They also discuss different types of writing, including story telling, poetic, legacy, and affirmative writing. In their conclusion, they state "to continue this personal growth and healing, try to see your writing as a practice, much like yoga or meditation, or like regularly going to the gym. Use your writing to reframe experiences, write about events from a perspective of compassion and empathy, write about everyday events with great attention to details and a spirit of mindfulness, and write your appreciation and gratitude for what many may call the little things-things we know are the only things needful."
Profile Image for Elaine.
115 reviews6 followers
September 29, 2020
I'm not a scientist of the mind :-), so more than half of the book was not interesting to me, but the whole concept was and I tried the simple version of expressive writing, which was writing my heart and soul. You know, all the things I wanted to say, my deepest feelings, the ones I don't share with anyone, my wants and needs, anything that crossed my mind. Then I set the paper on fire - something so revealing cannot fall on the wrong hands. I appreciate the concrete facts and was a little skeptical but was determined to do the leap of faith. And it worked! I recommend to give the methodology a shot.
Profile Image for Josephine Ensign.
Author 4 books41 followers
February 10, 2016
A bit simplistic in places, but a useful resource for reflective writing about and through trauma.
2 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2016
This book has helped me out tremendously. Brought out things in me I didn't know were there, things that were affecting my relationship even.
Profile Image for Karen Mace.
Author 4 books2 followers
March 29, 2017
As are his other books, this is a great resource from Pennebaker. If you are an Expressive Writing enthusiast and/ or therapist who uses it in your work with clients, you may not find anything new.
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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