This isn't exactly breaking news. But it is good news.
"Research has demonstrated that writing about emotionally traumatic experiences has a surprisingly beneficial effect on symptom reports, well-being, and health care use in healthy individuals." (The April 14, 1999 (Vol. 281, # 14) Journal of the American Medical Association.)
That article reported on a study of 112 volunteers (58 with asthma; 49 with rheumatoid arthritis) to determine if writing about a stressful event in their lives had a positive effect on their health. The results were astounding. Patients with mild to moderately severe chronic asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about "the most stressful experience they had ever undergone" for 20 minutes on 3 consecutive days experienced improved health 4 months later. The control group, who wrote about emotionally neutral life experiences, experienced no change.
No follow-up was done after the 4 months, but there's no reason to think the improvement didn't hold. (my conclusion)
In doing research for a talk I'll give during "Older Americans Month" linking writing to wellness, I found the above report. Boy, can I use that!
I've been teaching memoir writing for 20 years, and before/during that time I was a psychotherapist. All that time I've been telling people they could write themselves well, and that they are their own best therapist. I knew it, but had no research to back me up. Well, here it is!
The study, while treating patients with the above mentioned chronic illnesses, did not venture into the treatment of other chronic illnesses. I'm willing to bet that similar results would pertain to other chronic conditions though. If you go to this article on jama.com and scroll down, you'll see a long list of relevant articles about writing as therapy for all sorts of things. Good stuff!
We've known all along about the positive effects of writing, because we've experienced them. Now there's empirical evidence. I'll go to my talk armed with this unimpeachable resource.