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The effects of indirect versus direct disclosure of traumatic experience on psychological and physical well -being

Julianne I Yanko, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A number of studies have demonstrated that writing about a personal traumatic experience leads to improved psychological and physical health. Findings from one study (Greenberg, Wortman and Stone, 1996) suggest that writing about a trauma that one has not personally experienced has similar benefits. One explanation is that writing about another's trauma is emotionally relevant to one's own history, and allows one to express personal feelings in an indirect manner. This study examined whether writing in other less direct methods would also enhance functioning. Participants were 117 college women who had previously experienced a trauma. They were randomly assigned to one of five conditions: to write about their own trauma in a realistic way; to write about another person's trauma in a realistic way; to transform their own trauma into a piece of fiction; to transform another person's trauma into a piece of fiction; or to a control group in which they wrote descriptively about a campus scene. Participants who wrote about another's trauma were yoked to participants who wrote about their own trauma. There were 3 writing sessions. All 4 experimental groups reported increased distress, and increased negative mood, and decreased energy, self-esteem, and happy mood after each writing session. Mean changes in these mood measures decreased from the first to the third session in all groups, suggesting that participants habituated to the negative aspects of the trauma. Compared with the control group and other experimental groups, those who wrote about their own trauma in a realistic way made fewer illness visits at a 1-month follow-up compared to the month before the study. Unlike past studies, no psychological improvements were noted in any group. In contrast to the Wortman et al. (1996) study, the group writing about another person's trauma did not exhibit improved health. In the present study, participants had higher levels of initial psychological and physical functioning compared to those in other studies, with the result that this sample might have had less room for improvement. This could account for failure to replicate past research.

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Recommended Citation

Yanko, Julianne I, "The effects of indirect versus direct disclosure of traumatic experience on psychological and physical well -being" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988856.