- The Power of the Pen

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The Power of the Pen

This is the title of an article in September’s MIND, the psychological publication of the Scientific American.

It describes how a company in America that ran into financial difficulties laid off 100 engineers without any notice. The engineers all had to leave the building immediately taking only personal possessions. You can imagine the level of bitterness, hurt and anger they felt. One of them had worked for the company for 30 years.

A psychologist at the local University managed to recruit over half of them to take part in an experiment. James Pennbaker, the psychologist, split them into 3 groups. Group 1 kept a diary spending 20 minutes each day writing down how they spent their day. Group 2 were asked to spend the 20 minutes "writing down their deepest feelings about the loss of their jobs". While Group 3 were given no instructions but still kept a diary.

These engineers were then monitored as to their job applications, interviews and success in getting another job.

Those in Group 2 were far more successful in getting jobs than those in the other groups. So much better that the experiment was abandoned on ethical grounds so that they could all be advised to start writing down their deepest feelings.

Much research since has backed up and refined these results using suffering from wide range of traumas.

Interestingly, it is not beneficial to write about feelings concerned with positive experiences because that seems to diminish those feelings.

When someone faces a trauma of any kind, loss of a job, bereavement, getting cancer, then the worst thing you can do is allow those negative thoughts to go over and over in your mind.

The basis of being counselled is that it allows you to express how you are feeling and it seems that writing things down has a similar therapeutic effect.

The writing tips that article in MIND gives are:
"Write about negative experiences only, not positive ones"
"Spend at least 15 minutes per session"
"Focus on your deepest feelings"
"Let the words flow: don’t worry about spelling or grammar."

James Pennebaker also told people not to try to find "hidden meaning in their suffering". Instead he suggests that you keep it simple.
"What happened? How did I feel about that? Why did I feel that way?"


Most people at the Gentle Approach will understand the importance of talking about feelings and emotions. But, if someone isn’t to hand when you are feeling strong emotions then why not use the power of the pen and write it down.

Colin Sutherland Summarised from an article by Katja Gaschler in the Scientific American MIND Vol 18 No 4 Aug/Sept 07

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