Published online 2013 Dec 23. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2013.868887
Standard written emotional disclosure (WED) about stress, which is private and unguided, yields small health benefits. The effect of providing individualized guidance to writers may enhance WED, but has not been tested. This trial of computer-based WED compared two novel therapist-guided forms of WED—advance guidance (before sessions) or real-time guidance (during sessions, through instant messaging)—to both standard WED and control writing; it also tested Big 5 personality traits as moderators of guided WED. Young adult participants (n = 163) with unresolved stressful experiences were randomized to conditions, had three, 30-min computer-based writing sessions, and were reassessed 6 weeks later. Contrary to hypotheses, real-time guidance WED had poorer outcomes than the other conditions on several measures, and advance guidance WED also showed some poorer outcomes. Moderator analyses revealed that participants with low baseline agreeableness, low extraversion, or high conscientiousness had relatively poor responses to guidance. We conclude that providing guidance for WED, especially in real-time, may interfere with emotional processing of unresolved stress, particularly for people whose personalities have poor fit with this interactive form of WED.