ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (12): 2799-2808.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02799

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A theoretical study on the application of expressive writing to psychological rescue in social disasters

QIU Xiaoyan1, GE Yanying2, HU Chao3,4()   

  1. 1Zhejiang Post and Telecommunication College, Shaoxing 312366, China
    2School of Law, Southeast University, Nanjing 211189, China
    3Department of Medical Humanities, School of Humanities, Southeast University, Nanjing 211189, China
    4Psychological Research & Education Center, School of Humanities, Southeast University, Nanjing 211189, China
  • Received:2021-10-08 Online:2022-12-15 Published:2022-09-23
  • Contact: HU Chao


In the 1980s, an effort was made to improve college students' physical and mental health after traumatic experiences. The process of traumatic exposure via expressive writing was explored and developed by Pennebaker. This paradigm has the following advantages:
1. Maximum privacy protection
2. Stronger self-control by the writer as they control the depth and extent of the disclosure
3. Group guidance through telephone, internet, etc., resulting in reduced costs and intervention by therapists
4. Greater convenience for the therapist to track and study the therapeutic mechanism by examining the contents and characteristics of the written piece
Many empirical studies have shown that expressive writing contributes to the improvement of physical and mental health, enhancing the individual's well-being. In China, there is a long history of writing therapy. The rapid economic development and social progress in China over the last few decades have provided an excellent opportunity for in-depth empirical research on writing therapy in China. Social disasters, such as epidemics, bring a rapidly increasing number of trauma survivors. Coupled with traffic interruption, it can be challenging for traditional psychological rescue to quickly respond to a wide range of victims of psychological crises. Expressive writing (EW) can be quickly adopted by psychological workers on a large scale via phones, networks and other telecommunication tools, aiming to treat psychological traumas, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thereby improving physical and psychological health.
Research conducted following various disasters has reported mixed results. Expressive writing has been shown to positively benefit posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and posttraumatic growth, but its effects on physical health and depressive symptoms are unclear. These effects are highly relevant to the complex mechanics of expressive writing in social disasters, involving exposure desensitization, meaning reconstruction, self-extraction-self-regulation, working memory optimization and normalization of cognitive neural mechanisms. Besides, some factors can potentially affect its curative effects, such as participants' personality traits, time of intervention, and manners of writing. There are deficiencies in research on expressive writing following disasters. These include: (1) few studies of online writing, (2) insufficient exploration of cognitive neural mechanisms, and (3)discrepancy in effects on different physical and psychological health aspects. Therefore, more attention should be paid to local social and cultural factors, and more online intervention studies should be conducted. In addition, the cognitive and neural mechanisms related to expressive writing should be investigated, and its curative effect should be assessed by employing different physical and psychological indicators.

Key words: expressive writing, writing therapy, emotional expression, mental health, Chinese culture

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