For thousands of years, people have naturally turned to reflective writing not only to record experiences, but to clarify thinking and express emotion. Among the best known early examples are Meditations, by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180); the overlapping diaries of British government officials Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) and John Evelyn (1620-1706); the reflections of Russian empress Catherine the Great (1729-1796); and the Civil War diary of Mary Chesnut (1823-1886).

By the mid-twentieth century, concern about the association between stress and physical illness, as well as the growing popularity of natural remedies, sparked renewed interest in therapeutic journal writing. In the 1960s, for instance, New York City psychologist Ira Progoff developed an elaborate system that included color-coded journal sections dealing with different aspects of the writer’s experience. Other early approaches included Christina Baldwin’s One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing (1977) and Tristine Rainer’s The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity (1978).

Starting in the early 1980s, psychologists James Pennebaker at the University of Texas and Joshua Smyth at Penn State University helped to pioneer the scientific study of writing as a means to relieve stress, prevent or ameliorate illness, and improve the quality of life. Much of their early work is summarized in Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain. For additional examples of research on the benefits of reflective writing, including studies by Pennebaker and Smyth, see REPRESENTATIVE RESEARCH ON REFLECTIVE WRITING and REPRESENTATIVE PRINT AND ONLINE RESOURCES FOR REFLECTIVE WRITING.



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