Expressive Writing : Support for Front Line Health Care Workers during and after the COVID-19 Outbreak



This month I thought I would be researching and preparing for my various talks on Expressive Life Writing and Trauma Recovery at venues in Cyprus, Finland and France.

Instead I am in the midst of researching and developing (alongside my research partner Dr Siobhan Campbell of the Open University) a participatory research project designed to use digitised forms of Expressive Life Writing specifically adapted for the use of front line health care workers across the world, helping to support their well-being in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic. The project has generously been sponsored by Viaro Investments Ltd and will be completed within six months or sooner.

Viaro Logo

Campbell and I are currently gathering information on the forms of support already available to these workers, and understanding the findings of some very recent studies of the effectiveness of such interventions on Front line health care workers in China. Next we will draw upon this information and our past expertise with Expressive Writing training to create bespoke Expressive Writing materials for supporting the wellbeing of those workers.


These materials, all of which will be made freely available to those workers in English, Italian and Arabic, will include: The Expressive Writing for Front Line Health Care Workers Handbook and accompanying Expressive Writing Film;  The Expressive Writing for Front Line Health Care Workers Exercises;  and The Expressive Writing for Front Line Health Care Workers website, which will contain FAQs; further exercises and a space for Front Line Health Care Workers to share their own stories in confidence. At the same time, the proposed research project will also develop and test the efficacy of an innovative multilingual, freely accessible digital model for the successful dissemination of Expressive Writing training and exercises, gathering feedback via online surveys.

A secondary project, currently in development will seek to create a user friendly app with shorter exercises and mediations targeted specifically at front line health care workers across the world.

What is Expressive Writing?


For those of you unfamiliar with my previous work in this area and with Expressive Writing, Expressive Writing is a form of imaginative writing that places emotional expression at the centre of supporting well-being and post-trauma recovery. Through previous Expressive Writing projects collaboratively developed with local and international stakeholders in the UK, Iraq and Lebanon since 2015,  including the United Nations Development Program, the researchers Jensen and Campbell have trained palliative care staff, human rights advocates and social workers in the use of EW and overseen the deployment of their Expressive Writing methodology to support health and social care workers and the vulnerable populations with whom they work.

As Director of Kingston’s Life Narrative Research Group (since 2007), I have spent over a decade collaborating with inspirational colleagues from across the world who work at the interface of life writing, narratives of traumatic experience, and the advancement of human rights.

My recent monograph The Art and Science of Trauma and The Autobiographical: Negotiated Truths, draws on the latest research on the clinical, behavioural, evolutionary psychologies and the neuroscience of trauma in order to categorise and elucidate the complex relations between life stories and traumatic disorders. Art and Science of Trauma and the Autobiographical

Siobhan Campbell’s research explores ways in which narrative, expressive writing and creative writing interventions address and interact with forms of activism and participation in post conflict environments while her creative practice enables the provision of workshop approaches and story gathering protocols for use in contested or recovering environments.Campbell

In 2015, we began to develop and adapt the Expressive Writing methodology, first developed by Professor James Pennebaker in the 1980s, for use in the rights-building context.


Expressive writing has been shown to support well-being and recovery for people during and after facing very difficult life experiences such as combat, sexual violence, and the death of loved ones. Siobhan and I have overseen several research projects that have trained social workers in conflict and post conflict regions, refugee camps and palliative care settings, teaching them how to use Expressive Writing to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Our current aim is to adapt this same material to support Front Line Health Care Workers in the current crisis, and to test the effectiveness of online access to Expressive Writing Material specifically aimed at those workers and freely available to them in three languages (English, Italian and Arabic).

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