Actually, I have no proof – yet. But an article this month’s issue of Scientific American highlights the myriad therapeutic benefits of blogging, so maybe dashing off a quick article will help with my aching back… Jessica Wapner writes in her article that self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. “Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery.” I know therapists often tell patients to write in a journal, but I wasn’t aware of the Prozac-like waves of well-being washing over bloggers, keepers of electronic journals, etc. A quick search on PubMed revealed that in fact, expressive writing has been studied in a number of settings and conditions and seems to truly make a difference. Blogging may serve as the placebo effect, according to a neuroscientist quoted in Wapner’s article. It could also trigger the release of dopamine – kind of a blogger’s high, like those experienced by runners, musicians or artists. Since writing activity isn’t confined to one area of the brain, it’s difficult to use brain imaging to understand the underlying neurobiology, Wapner says. "Most likely, writing activates a cluster of neurological pathways, and several researchers are committed to uncovering them. At the University of Arizona, psychologist and neuroscientist Richard Lane hopes to make brain-imaging techniques more relevant by using those techniques to study the neuroanatomy of emotions and their expressions. Nancy Morgan, lead author of the Oncologist study [see below], is looking to conduct larger community-based and clinical trials of expressive writing. And [James Pennebaker, psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin] is continuing to investigate the link between expressive writing and biological changes, such as improved sleep, that are integral to health." "Whatever the underlying causes may be, people coping with cancer diagnoses and other serious conditions are increasingly seeking—and finding—solace in the blogosphere." "'Blogging undoubtedly affords similar benefits' to expressive writing, says Morgan, who wants to incorporate writing programs into supportive care for cancer patients. Some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians begin to recognize the therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situations, Morgan explains: 'Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other’s expressions—the basis for forming a community.'" I selected three studies at random from recent publications listed on PubMed, and was pleasantly surprised by the findings. 1. In April’s issue of Emotion, Sloan et al. examined whether ruminative style – a tendency to focus repetitively on the meaning, causes, and consequences of distress – moderated the effects of expressive writing (Emotion, 2008 Apr;8(2):302-6.) At the beginning of their first college semester, 69 participants assessed for ruminative style and depression symptoms and then randomized to an expressive writing or control writing group. Results at two, four and six months showed that a brooding ruminative style moderated the effects of expressive writing – higher brooding scores correlated with significantly fewer depression symptoms relative to individuals with lower brooding scores. Interestingly, reflective pondering ruminative style did not moderate effects of expressive writing. (Apparently, rumination is composed of an adaptive reflective pondering factor and a maladaptive brooding factor.) “These findings suggest that expressive writing could be used as a means of reducing depression symptoms among those with a maladaptive ruminative tendency to brood,” the authors write. 2. An article in February’s Oncologist found that expressive writing was significantly associated with improved quality of life in cancer patients. (Oncologist. 2008 Feb;13(2):196-204.) Morgan et al. evaluated 71 adult leukemia and lymphoma patients who completed a baseline assessment, 20-minute writing task, post-writing assessment, and a three-week follow-up. (Eighty-eight percent completed the writing task; 56 percent completed the follow-up.) Almost half (49.1 percent) reported changes in their thoughts about their illness immediately after the writing task, and slightly more than half (53.8 percent) reported changes at the three-week follow-up. “Reports of changes in thoughts about illness immediately post-writing were significantly associated with better physical quality of life at follow-up, controlling for baseline quality of life,” the authors observe. “These preliminary findings indicate that a single, brief writing exercise is related to cancer patients' reports of improved quality of life.” 3. An interesting study in February’s British Journal of Health Psychology investigated the boundary conditions – feasibility, safety and efficacy – of expressive writing for PTSD sufferers. (Br J Health Pscyhol. 2008 Feb;13(Pt 1):85-93.) Patients were randomly assigned to write about their traumatic experience (expressive writing experimental group) or about time management (control group). Patients were assessed for PTSD severity and symptoms, mood states, post-traumatic growth and cortisol reactivity to trauma-related stress. “No changes in PTSD diagnosis or symptoms were observed, but significant improvements in mood and post-traumatic growth were observed in the expressive writing group. Finally, expressive writing greatly attenuated neuroendocrine (cortisol) responses to trauma-related memories,” the authors write. "Although patients continue to exhibit the core features of PTSD, their capacity to regulate those responses appears improved following expressive writing. Dysphoric mood decreased after writing and when exposed to traumatic memories, participants' physiological response is reduced and their recovery enhanced.” Forbes picked up a Health Day News story in February: "Many [cancer patients] turn to support groups, psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs to help them cope with the fears and challenges the illness brings. … [A pen and paper] are the only tools required for a simple, increasingly popular intervention called 'expressive writing' or 'journal therapy.' The research suggests that by spending 30 minutes each day for four days to write out their innermost thoughts and feelings, patients can significantly boost mental and physical health. And experts say nearly everyone who tries journal therapy stands to benefit." "The result, for many patients, is a kind of catharsis – a release and articulation of issues bottled up inside – and also a healthy coming to terms with some of those issues." "Expressive writing therapy does work better for some patients than for others, according to the story. Pre-adolescent children may not have the cognitive or emotional skills at that age to work through things on their own; solitary and private patients may benefit the most." "As treatments go, expressive-writing therapy is cheap. 'Obviously, there's nothing fancy or high-tech that's required, and you don't need to spend money on a therapist,' [Harvard researcher Susan Bauer-Wu] pointed out. 'It’s right there, it’s self-care,' she said. 'People can heal themselves.'" In a time when people are choosing among paying rent, buying groceries, or paying medical bills, free therapy sounds pretty darn swell.