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SAGE Publications

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Journal of Humanistic Psychology

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Evidence that even very brief writing exercises can change the way people see themselves and promote more positive mental and physical health has led to increased interest in their use in school settings and elsewhere. To date, however, research designs rely heavily on samples of college students and experimental studies of writing tasks carried out in the lab. There has been less investigation of the potential impact of more naturally occurring expressive writing exercises that exist in places like schools and that focus on adolescents. The current study was a process evaluation of the Laws of Life Essay, a values-based narrative program that was part of participants’ secondary school experience. It examined participants’ views of the impact of the program on their personal growth and, given the age range of participants, allowed for process evaluation of its perceived short- and long-term effects. Qualitative, semistructured interviews with 55 adolescent and adult participants were collected. Themes in participants’ responses included the importance of reflection and reappraisal of values, adversity, and relationships. Participants also discussed the importance of an audience for their writing, a novel finding that suggests one possible way to increase the impact of other narrative programs. Participants described variability in their engagement with expressive writing. This is one of the few studies that examined participants’ own views of the value of expressive writing and their responses suggest directions for future research and implications for designing expressive writing tasks to support social emotional learning and character education in schools and promote well-being at key developmental moments.


Accepted version. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 59, No. 2 (December 2015) : 269-283. DOI. © 2015 SAGE Publications. Used with permission.

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