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Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  487 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Expressing painful emotions is hard--yet it can actually improve our mental and physical health. This lucid, compassionate book has introduced tens of thousands of readers to expressive writing, a simple yet powerful self-help technique grounded in scientific research. Leading experts James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth describe how taking just a few minutes to write a ...more
Paperback, 3rd Edition, 210 pages
Published July 15th 2016 by The Guilford Press (first published 1990)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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Heather Pagano
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
A great psychology book focusing on practical ways to cope with a traumatic experience or big life change. I was looking for a book that would teach how to keep a daily journal- this is not that book. Here two researchers rigorously collate years of experiments, posit reasons for what they found, and offer suggestions and exercises for writing. I loved learning about their ideas: how illness and poor immune function can be caused by stress, how stress can be caused by holding in secret pain, how ...more
Simon Ri
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
In my estimation articulating problems is highly underrated when it comes to solving that very. When complicated experiences are carefully put into words the manner in which they are represented in the brain changes. They move from the areas associated with stressful emotion demanding constant physical readiness to the areas associated with detailed comprehension and understanding. This makes articulate people less stressed and more informed about how to be successful now and in the future, whic ...more
Scrapsandsass
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've been fascinated by James Pennebaker's work for the past twenty years, so this book was a no-brainer for me.

This book shared a lot of information on why the authors first got involved in expressive writing and researching its benefits. There was a lot of explanation about the process and the methods they've used over the years. It was good to read about the progress being made in the area of health, wellness, and self-improvement, and how expressive writing can make an impact on those areas
...more
Justin
Jun 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
Keeping things to ourselves creates stress whereas expressing them through talking or writing benefits our mental and physical health. Pennebaker's research explores how inhibition hurts us compared to confrontation which although painful at first can ultimately benefit us. His research has focused on self-disclosure through writing in an laboratory setting with physiological measures. That said, his research brings some fascinating insights, but a good amount of it remains correlational. He exp ...more
Sippy
Some interesting points that could have been told in maybe 30-40 pages including a small appendix with exercises. Too much storytelling too much repetition too little insight(s). 2.5 stars
Tony Page
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating evidence of the benefits of expressive writing for personal performance, health and well-being.
Mina Lobo
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, particularly the straightforward and matter-0f-fact tone of the authors. So many self-help books pump themselves up with hyperbolic enthusiasm and are sales-oriented, pushing the reader to authors' websites to become dependent on them and spend more money on their products. Not "Opening Up by Writing It Down"--the authors gave their background info on the subject, discussed trials and errors, and provided details from multiple studies to support their thesis. However, they d ...more
Anita
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The explanation for how to do expressive writing is short and clear. It is repeated a bit throughout the book. The bulk of the book is studies on what expressive writing can do and may not do. There are many studies given showing some excellent effects and also demonstrating that this is not the total answer in dealing with pain. I appreciated the truth in this book as opposed to simply hype. There are a few simple exercises to try. This is one aspect of writing that I was interested in. It turn ...more
Lisajean
I got a lot out of this book. In part, it convinced me that journaling will always be a key part of my classroom practice, as will free writes and process writes. Now, I'm well aware of the risk of turning to psychology books for insight into teaching, namely that I am not a psychologist, I'm not a therapist, and it would be inappropriate for me to try to take on that role for my students. However, as an English teacher, I do think it's helpful to have a nuanced understanding of the ways writing ...more
Aurélie
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
What a really interesting book that was! I started reading it because I wanted to be more informed on the benefits of writing in general. And I was surprisingly amazed. The main point of this book is that expressive writing and putting our thoughts into words is proved to reduce the stress, improve our health and our life and relationships in general. This is mainly true when dealing with traumas and major problems and even if it is not my current case, I am journaling every day since one month ...more
Dottie Parish
James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., in his book, Opening Up, The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion, describes a study of unemployed men. The men who wrote about losing their jobs found new jobs much more quickly than the two control groups. Writing helped them vent anger, hurt and pain about their job loss. It enabled them to let go of painful experiences, and this in turn, helped them be effective in finding employment.

As a clinical social worker I know writing is helpful, Writing will help with any
...more
Eri
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cure illness as part of healing methods:)
Shelves: self-help
Try experiment yourself by writing down anything that emerge from your mind, heart and soul during your hard times, sadness, dissapointment, heart break, down hearted...
Writing is the best therapy - as James' experiments have proved them - 'coz I did it too as part of healing my tumour in 2006-2007. Released all the stress, worries, wondering mind, doubtfulness, and many more.
To cure illness by expressing yourself in writing is the best treatment.
...more
Robyn
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive and easily digestible overview on the research behind expressive writing. An easy read that prepares you to either engage in the practice of expressive writing, or use it with clients as a psychotherapeutic intervention. Very interesting, and enjoyably written!
Mary Alice
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoughtful explanations of studies Pennebaker conducted concerning confiding in others and expressing those thougts through writing.
Leonardo
Sep 06, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference  ·  review of another edition
Pennebaker began his research by studying the relationship between trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, and later health problems. Trauma and stress are usually bad for people, and Pennebaker thought that self-disclosure—talking with friends or therapists—might help the body at
the same time that it helps the mind. One of his early hypotheses was that traumas that carry more shame, such as being raped (as opposed to a nonsexual assault) or losing a spouse to suicide (rather than to a car accid
...more
E
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, ebook
This is a book where it's important to go in with the right set of expectations.

If you're reading this book to learn about how to write expressively (beyond generic instructions such as "really let it out, put down your deepest feelings"), this is not your book. It hints throughout that Chapter 10 will contain the instructions needed to do this, and then Chapter 10 ends with a whimper, not a bang, giving you nothing but aforementioned generic instructions.
If anyone has book suggestions for what
...more
Cherie Cawdron
I wanted to love this book, as I had already read some of the author's research and found it really interesting. But it wasn't until the final chapter on writing and well-being that it felt that the content seemed to match the book's title. While I learned a lot about how inhibition might relate to the benefit of journaling, I felt the book missed the mark on talking about emotions outside of the 'trauma' category. There was a lot of referencing to the physiological effects in the research which ...more
Corinne
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a firm believer in the power of journaling. I've found it helpful in my own personal development and working through difficult times and dilemmas as well as in that of my clients. Pennebaker provides the clinical research and evidence behind it while providing examples of interesting case studies.

This is an essential on my bookshelf of references. I've both the Kindle and the hardcopy versions.
...more
Corinne
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a firm believer in the power of journaling. I've found it helpful in my own personal development and working through difficult times and dilemmas as well as in that of my clients. Pennebaker provides the clinical research and evidence behind it while providing examples of interesting case studies.

This is an essential on my bookshelf of references. I've both the Kindle and the hardcopy versions.
...more
SAnderson
Interesting and sometimes insightful but as with so many self-help books it is a plodding, repetitive read that made it a slog.
Abdulaziz
Mar 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
I felt that as a book it deserves 3 stars, but due to the importance of the topic and how the authors emphasized it, it deserves 4 stars.

Like many others have mentioned, this book will explain the importance of writing about your inner thoughts, traumas and hardships as a way of dealing with them. It does an excellent job of convincing the reader to start writing and make it part of your routing, which you should because it's good for you. But it also will explain how to write, which is not a co
...more
Laura
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4/5 stars

*read for an English class
Stephanie
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-help
I was somewhat familiar with Dr. Pennebaker’s work through his 2014 title Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, and as a lifelong journal keeper, his ideas have always resonated with me. So I was pleased to receive an advance copy of Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain from NetGalley and Guilford Publications in exchange for my honest review.

As I read it, I kept thinking I should check with my therapist to be sure she has t
...more
Tim Murphy
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
A good and quick read on the value of writing for working through traumatic or difficult life circumstances. Their emphasis is not on writing or writing well, but on the effects of writing—however it’s done—on being able to come to terms with, and perhaps release, the results of life trauma.

The book has a couple of long discussions of the value of writing for those who suffer from PTSD, which is the reason I read it. These were quite valuable. The weakest chapter was “Get these thoughts out of
...more
Olwen
Nov 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: counselling
Disclosure: I'm a habitual writer in my journal, so I am a little biased. I do find the process of writing my thoughts and feelings each day quite therapeutic. But I can also understand that some people might find this process almost impossible if they're not comfortable with the process of writing, or have a limited vocabulary. For them, dot point journalling might be the better technique.

This is a useful book for therapists considering the prescription of writing as therapy for their clients.
...more
Allan Martell
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a valuable source of information for anyone interested in understanding the science behind expressive writing for psycho-social wellness. I you want to skip the science and just want to get a how-to approach, focus on chapters 1, 9 and 10. The latter is especially good at providing you with different writing strategies, and suggesting step-by-step protocols. Be mindful of the authors' warning: this is not a one-size fits all approach, but a set of starting points based on decades of rese ...more
Emine Ozturk
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Pennebaker does not only give the results of the scientific studies relating to expressive writing, but also provides key examples for applying this technique in a variety of fields such as depression, self-reflection, and PTSD, etc. It should be noted that there is a research gap about the effects of writing on specific health outcomes in the current literature. One of the things I like about the book is details I did not know previously about the expressive writing that is may not be recom ...more
G
Nov 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is a very broad introduction to a number of the issues around disclosure, expressive writing, and some of the related issues around emotional stress and its physiological correlates. While I wouldn't say this goes too in-depth about any of the individual issues as such, it would definitely be accessible for anyone interested in those areas.

Plus, obviously, as the current maestro of the expressive writing paradigm, James Pennebaker is at least worth reading in his own original prose. Th
...more
Olga
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book on the benefits of writing. He describes his experiment that show the benefits of writing about traumatic events for different circumstances: a traumatic event in the past, a secret that one cannot share with others, a natural disaster that crossed one's life. Written in a very engaging way. I'll read more. ...more
Debbi
I'm not generally a self-help type person, but the author did provide some good information. This book is a result of his own studies on this subject. While I wanted to disagree with some of his conclusions, he did have the data to back up his claims. The book did lose steam on the last 1/3 of the book. How many times can you say that same thing over and over again? ...more
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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 per ...more

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