Perm J. 2013 Winter;17(1):16-20. doi: 10.7812/TPP/12-056.
In previous studies, writing about traumatic life events produced positive physical and psychological outcomes in various populations. Specific linguistic trends, such as increasing insight and cognitive words, have paralleled health benefits.
This study explored the effects of written traumatic emotional disclosure on eating disorder behavior and cognitions as well as linguistic dimensions of the disclosure writings completed by eating-disordered patients.
Twenty-nine female patients, aged 16 to 39 years, from the Penn State Hershey Eating Disorders partial-hospitalization program participated. Twenty-five subjects completed a traumatic disclosure or control writing task, and 21 completed all writings and baseline and follow-up questionnaires to assess eating-disorder symptoms, emotional regulation strategies, self-efficacy, and motivation to change eating-disorder behaviors. The handwritten essays were transcribed into a word-processed document and analyzed on numerous dimensions using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software.
Individuals completing the disclosure writing did not differ from those in the control task group on any of the questionnaires at follow-up. However, the disclosure group did use more negative emotion, insight, cognitive, function, and filler words on all writing days along with decrease of tentative words. These changes in word use correlated with previous study findings.
Whereas the expected linguistic trends were evident in the disclosure group writings, no correlating health benefits could be found between the disclosure and control groups. Eating-disordered populations, often alexithymic, may have difficulty engaging with the disclosure task and could potentially benefit from guidance in processing traumatic events and their affective states.