The science behind WriteWell

Writing, learning and creativity all help build mental resilience

From diaries to letters, emails to shopping lists, texts to social media, we all write everyday. Writing is one of the best tools for making sense of life. We are all writers.

WriteWell is about tuning into the power writing and creativity have to process difficult emotions and bring perspective, particularly in difficult times. It's about adding new simple but effective strategies to your wellbeing and recovery toolkit.

Read our full 2021 report about WriteWell and how writing for wellbeing could save our mental health. 


Although writing is not therapy in itself, a rapidly growing body of robust scientific research (see below) shows that writing has a powerful impact on mental health - whether it's called therapeutic, expressive or reflective writing, journaling, creative or life writing, bibliotherapy, curative writing or poetry therapy.

Writing boosts positive emotions and can help process trauma. In addition, online learning communities are a great way to find new motivation as you learn alongside others. The NHS recommends learning as an important step towards mental wellbeing.

A study at the University of Texas at Austin discovered that 'writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes over the course of three days brings about improvements in mental and physical health. This finding has been replicated across age, gender, culture, social class, and personality type.'



This piece of research found consistent and significant health improvements when individuals write or talk about personally upsetting experiences. The effects are found in both subjective and objective markers of health and well-being. People who benefited from writing began with poorly organized descriptions and progressed to coherent stories by the last day of writing. The more that individuals used positive emotion words, the better their subsequent health. Published by Psychological Science Journal Vol 8.


Participants were randomly assigned to write about either their most traumatic life event, their best possible future self, both of these topics, or a nonemotional control topic. Individuals writing about life goals found it significantly less upsetting than writing about trauma. They also found a significant increase in subjective well-being. Five months after writing, more significant results emerged: writing about trauma, one’s best possible self, or both were associated with decreased illness. Results show that individuals writing about their future selves can be associated with the same health benefits as writing about trauma. Research article by Laura A. King.


It is well-documented that arts activities and clinical arts interventions can be used as non-medical interventions to promote public health and wellbeing. Engagement in specially designed arts activities or arts therapies can reduce physical symptoms and improve mental health issues.


Forming a story about one’s experiences in life is associated with improved physical and mental health. Current evidence points to the value of having a coherent, organized format (writing) as a way to give meaning to an event and manage the emotions associated with it. Whether in written or spoken form, putting personal experiences into a story is associated with both physical and mental benefits. This is perhaps the most promising and direct evidence that benefiting from writing is linked to forming a story about one’s experiences.


In particular, the study results support the hypothesis that focusing on emotions, feelings, and deeper thoughts allows Health Care Workers to reduce various distress symptoms, such as PTSD symptoms. Expressive writing as an intervention could maximise the internal resources of HCWs by effectively improving their quality of life and, consequently, also patient outcomes. The development of a coherent narrative could help them reorganize traumatic memories, allowing them to adjust their way of thinking.


Studies examining expressive writing demonstrate some beneficial effects in physical and/or psychological health. There are demonstrated benefits potentially resulting from some combination of immediate cognitive and/or emotional changes, longer-term cognitive and/or emotional changes, social processes and biological effects, rather than being accounted for by any single factor.


The writing task produced superior health outcomes in several outcome types, each measured at least 1-month post writing: reported health, psychological well-being, physiological functioning, and general functioning.


To see if writing about their trauma lessened PTSD and related symptoms, 57 undergraduates, previously screened for traumatic experiences, wrote for 15 minutes on 4 days across 2 weeks about either their trauma or a trivial topic. In this project, writing seemed to reduce PTSD symptoms regardless of whether it concerned the trauma or what they ate for lunch.


According to this theory, people who had suppressed a traumatic memory might learn to move beyond the experience once they expressed their emotions about it. Multiple mechanisms may underlie the benefits of expressive writing. The act of thinking about an experience, as well as expressing emotions, seems to be important. In this way, writing helps people to organize thoughts and give meaning to a traumatic experience.


People with serious mental illness report benefits from interacting with peers online from greater social connectedness, feelings of group belonging, and by sharing personal stories and strategies for coping with day-to-day challenges of living with a mental illness. Within online communities, individuals with serious mental illness could challenge stigma through personal empowerment and providing hope. By learning from peers online, these individuals may gain insight about important health care decisions, which could promote mental health care-seeking behaviours.


This study evaluated a community-based adult learning programme for adults with mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety. Most people who took part in the evaluation were positive about the programme; a vast majority (94%) would recommend it to a friend. People who attended courses enjoyed the fact that they were engaging in a regular group activity. Quantitative data indicated a reduction in participants’ symptoms whilst qualitative data showed how participants felt about the programme. Referring to community-based adult learning programmes may be less stigmatising than standard clinical care pathways.


Having opportunities to learn and grow is now the number 1 factor that people say defines an exceptional work environment. The pandemic sped up digital transformation and the ever-enlarging skills gap. LinkedIn's data shows skilling, employee retention, well-being, leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion are all urgent priorities in the workplace.

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