Contents & Abstracts
Editorial : Special
Edition: Health benefits of the disclosure of emotions about traumatic experiences:
What is the evidence and potential for therapeutic benefits?
by Christine Stephens
This study examined whether written emotional expression of personal and emotional events in a home-based setting might result in improved psychological and physical well-being. Following completion of a number of health and psychological well-being questionnaires, forty-seven men and ninety-nine women were assigned to one of three conditions. Participants in the emotional expression writing group were asked to write about previously undisclosed personal and emotional events for 3 days; participants in the unemotive writing group were asked to write about pre-assigned superficial topics for 3 days; and participants in the control group did not write. Participants were asked to complete the initial questionnaires three, seven and thirty weeks later. The emotional expression group experienced an increase in physical symptoms (p =.04) and self-reported number of days taken off college due to illness (p =.03) at three weeks, and less anxiety and insomnia (p =.04) at 30 weeks. Written emotional expression was associated with short-term detrimental physical health effects and less substantial long-term psychological health benefits, cautioning against the adoption of written emotional expression alone in the home environment.
There is evidence that individuals experiencing natural disasters are at risk for long term physical and mental health problems, particularly if experiencing unbidden thoughts (intrusions) about the disaster. Interventions provided post-disaster, especially those that involve emotional expression, may help protect individuals from these negative effects. This study examined if a brief, easily administered, structured writing task (expressing thoughts and emotions about the natural disaster) would attenuate the relationship between intrusions about the disaster and both negative affect and physical symptoms. Individuals recently displaced by a hurricane and subsequent flooding were randomly assigned to the experimental (emotional writing) group (n=27) or to the control (neutral writing) group. A community reference group (n=56) was also obtained. In the control group, disaster-related intrusions more than three months post-disaster were associated with higher levels of negative affect and more physical symptoms (p's<.01). In the experimental group, disaster-related intrusions were unrelated to both negative affect and physical symptoms (p's>.15). These data suggest that future research examine the clinical utility of structured writing interventions for individuals who have experienced natural disasters or other trauma.
Massey University, New Zealand
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