Blogging is good for your health: the therapeutic effects of journal-writing.

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Dear Diary,

I’ve been writing my blog for just over a month now. I thought I would find the writing part difficult, as mentioned in my first post ‘typing into the void’, I’m not a sharer but I have actually found the writing experience quite therapeutic. The process of thinking how I feel about something, articulating it, and coming to a conclusion feels cathartic. For those who just went “eh?”,  catharsis is the nice feeling you get  when you get something out of your system (think about that feeling after having a rant about something that’s annoyed you or hitting a punch bag when you are angry).  For instance, when writing my last post ‘occupational overload, occupational deprivation and Occubuzz’, I felt by the end  that I had come to a resolution. I had decided what action to take to address my occupational deprivation which I didn’t have before I started writing. For regular lurkers, that meant I decided to plan some activities such as catching up with friends, exercising, and going to art galleries instead of putting my life on hold and logging on to the DBS tracking service every 5 minutes. As blogs are a publicly accessible personal journal (Webopedia), it started me thinking whether journal writing is used in occupational therapy for therapeutic gain.

It didn’t take me long to find that occupational therapists do use writing such as journals, stories, poems, life stories, unsent letters and imagined replies as therapeutic activities with their clients. It’s believed that writing helps people gain personal insight, allows them to express themselves and offers a space for reflection (Haertl, 2007).

Expressing emotions is seen as being important to physical and mental health, where ‘bottling things up’ is thought of as being damaging (Esterling, L’Abate, Murray & Pennebaker, 1999). Let’s face it, no one ever felt better by keeping their emotions to themselves and the research backs this up.

Improving mental health

Studies have found that participants (the people who take part in the research) significantly lowered their depression and anxiety scores when they wrote about their feelings in special workbooks (L’Abate, Boyce, Frazier and Russ , 1992; L’Abate & Baggett, 1997). Writing can also help people cope better in times of stress. A study found that the participants who wrote emotionally following redundancy coped better than those who did not write (Spera, Buhrfeind & Pennebaker, 1994).

Improving physical health

Writing about emotional topics increases the effectiveness of the immune system (Pennebaker, 1997). An effective immune system means that you don’t get ill as often. I certainly notice that I’m getting aches, pains and colds when I’m stressed. Greenberg and Stone (1992) observed that participants who wrote about upsetting periods experienced a reduction in appointments with their doctor than those who wrote about trivial matters.

Well I’m all for better mental and physical health, so it’s on with the blogging it is!  This is my first blog post with references, so it’s a bit more academic in nature. As I’m trying to develop my style, I’d love to know what you think of it or whether you prefer a more informal, personal style. So with my blogging done for today, I’m off now to do paint the house (productivity drive), although I might just go on the DBS tracking website a couple more times between painting the house and pilates…

References:

Esterling, B.A., L’Abate, L., Murray, E.J. & Pennebaker, J.W. (1999).  Empirical foundations for writing in prevention and psychotherapy: mental and physical health outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 19(1 ), pp.79-96. doi: 10/1016/S0272-7358198) 00015-4

Greenberg, M.A., & Stone, A.A. (1992). Writing about disclosed versus undisclosed traumas. Immediate and long term effects on mood and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (62), pp. 75-84.

Haertl, K. (2007). Journaling as an assessment tool in mental health. In B.J. Hemphill-Pearson (Ed.), Assessments on occupational therapy mental health: an integrative approach (pp.62-70). Thorofare: Slack.

L’Abate, L., Boyce, J., Frazier, R., & Russ, D. (1992). Programmed writing research in progress. Comprehensive Mental Health Care, 2 (1), pp. 45–62.

L’Abate, L., & Baggett, M.S. (1997). Manual distance writing and computer assisted training in mental health. Atlanta: Institute for Life and Empowerment.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.       [Electronic version]. Psychological Science, 8 (3), pp. 162-166.

Spera, E., Buhrfeind, J.W., & Pennebaker, J.W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. [Electronic version]. Academy of Management Journal, 37 (3), pp. 722–733.

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8 thoughts on “Blogging is good for your health: the therapeutic effects of journal-writing.

  1. I think including the references and having done a bit more reading is great for your development. As you say emotional reflection is very beneficial to health so I would possibly suggest a mix of the two styles- some academic on specific topics that you are interested in but also more free flowing reflections on your experiences.
    I have a personal blog that I don’t share with anyone at the moment to let me process things that happen in my life which I find really helpful.

    Keep blogging and sharing your views of OT, its really interesting.

    • Hi nikkihidingonthesofa, thanks for your feedback, it’s great to hear that you are enjoying the blog. Thanks for the constructive comments on blog style and writing a blog like a reflection (I prefer Gibbs’ model) was an idea that I was toying with at some point so I will give it a try. Looking forward to hearing more from you. Best wishes.

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