Twenty-eight books have played a part on this, and I still have one on request from the library.
There were many where I didn't think the book was that great overall, but there was still something that stuck. Then, there will be other people whom that book helped a lot, so it's very individual.
I was mostly not impressed by David Kessler's Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, but it did have a reference to expressive writing and James W. Pennebaker. That sounded like it was right up my alley. I read Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain.
Here is one pretty approachable article about the process, but you can find instructions in multiple places:
At its most basic level, you have multiple sessions of writing about some trauma in your life. It is free-form, unplanned writing for around 15 or 20 minutes.
In Pennebaker's experiments they had people also try writing about other things, some people talked into a tape recorder instead of writing, and they varied the length. I only remember segments of three consecutive days, but this article mentions four-day periods also. It can be very flexible.
I wanted to experiment a little bit too. My first idea was to see if there was a difference between handwriting and typing on a computer. That made a huge difference in that I can't even complete one fifteen minute session writing by hand. I scrapped that immediately and started fresh the next day.
I said it was very individual.
All of my segments were three consecutive days on the same topic, and then moving on to another topic for another three days the following week. I did that twice for three weeks in a row, but had not initially planned on doing the second round; I just came up with more material.
I did not always start on the same day, but I always kept the days consecutive. I did do both fifteen and twenty minute sessions, and did not notice a lot of difference for that. In some ways the twenty minute ones felt like more pressure, but for someone who worries about not getting everything out it could be liberating.
I also experimented with different times of day, trying before bedtime (my usual writing time), afternoons, and in the mornings right after breakfast. After breakfast completely stressed me out because of the pressure to do other thing. There was not a big difference between afternoons and nights for me. I am sure it makes a difference to feel like you can have the uninterrupted time, varying based on your schedule.
For each week, I kept the session time, length, and method the same. Theoretically it was also always the same topic, but sometimes things come up.
The extreme adaptability is probably something that is very useful. Also, self-expression itself is quite valuable, and it gets discouraged a lot.
One of the things that makes me feel best about recommending expressive writing is the relative safety. It's not just that it is something anyone can do on their own, but it also seems less likely to pull up things you are not ready to deal with.
It's not that nothing comes up. Often toward the end of a session I would find myself writing something that did not seem pertinent to the topic, but there were connections and my subconscious knew it. Still, the writing is pulling from conscious thought of remembered things for limited time periods... it should be pretty gentle.
I was worried that it would not be that helpful for me because I have already written about so many of these things so much, but I wrote about them at the level that I was ready for then, and more deliberately, with a pretty clear idea of what I was going to write at those times.
The obvious question is then whether additional journal writing at this time would have gotten me to the same place, or whether just planning a time and a topic but not the words contributed something different.
I believe the expressive writing was uniquely helpful. Following its format did give me some unexpected thoughts, and bringing those thoughts out is why I ended up having more to write about two months later.
It is also completely possible that it was a better fit for me because writing is so much a part of whom I am. The simplicity of the technique, though, seems like it should be something that can work well for many people. The results in blood pressure for the participating students by itself is enough of a reason to consider trying it.
Worth a shot.