Writing about your trauma in third person helps recovery

Writing about your traumas in third person eases recovery. Photo credit: culturestrike.net

Writing about your traumas in third person eases recovery. Photo credit: culturestrike.net

Writing your memoirs or simply recollecting traumatizing memories in writing has been used as tool in therapy for many years now. A new study by researchers at University of Iowa  found that switching to writing in third person eases recovery and improves health of participants.

Whether it’s a car accident, the death of someone close, surgery, illness, or even financial collapse, traumatic events can trigger a barrage of challenging emotions. Writing about trauma and the emotions it triggers in you can help you to put things into perspective and soothe some of your fears. That’s why therapists often advise keeping a journal and basically get traumatizing thoughts out of your head and onto paper. For some, this form of catharsis rends promising results.

He was writing his memories

Psychologists at University of Iowa found, however, that writing in third person leads to  greater health gains for participants who struggled with trauma-related intrusive thinking, as measured by the number of days their normal activities were restricted by any kind of illness.

So, instead of writing “I am worried by cancer will come back” or “I crashed the car on the freeway”, re-phrasing as “She was worried her cancer would come back” or “She crashed the car” would be better. The researchers’ analysis found that people suffering from high levels of intrusive thinking can yield higher benefits if they express their trauma in third-person.

“Third-person expressive writing might provide a constructive opportunity to make sense of what happened but from a safe distance that feels less immediate and threatening,” says Matthew Andersson, a graduate student in social psychology at the University of Iowa and a co-author on the study.

The results were reported in a paper published in the journal Stress and Health.

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