J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996 Sep;71(3):588-602.
Health benefits derived from personal trauma disclosure are well established. This study examined whether disclosing emotions generated by imaginative immersion in a novel traumatic event would similarly enhance health and adjustment. College women, preselected for trauma presence, were randomly assigned to write about real traumas, imaginary traumas, or trivial events. Yoked real-trauma and imaginary-trauma participants wrote about real-trauma participants’ experiences. Imaginary-trauma participants were significantly less depressed than real-trauma participants at immediate posttest, but they were similarly angry, fearful, and happy. Compared with control group participants, both trauma groups made significantly fewer illness visits at 1-month follow-up; however, real-trauma participants reported more fatigue and avoidance than did the other groups. Imaginary-trauma group effects could reflect catharsis, emotional regulation, or construction of resilient possible selves.
Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003 Oct;29(10):1236-44.
This study examined the impact of disclosing traumas on resilient self-perceptions and psychological distress. Participants (N = 50) wrote about a traumatic life event or their plans for the next day and completed measures of resilience and distress before disclosing (pretest) and 3 months later (posttest). Results revealed that trauma participants increased in positive self-perceptions (mastery, personal growth, self-acceptance) and decreased in distress (depression, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, somatization) from pretest to posttest. Control participants showed no changes except for autonomy, on which they decreased. Results suggest that in addition to reducing psychological distress, disclosing traumas change self-perception, resulting in a more resilient self-concept.
The DCIHR research team recently completed a study on expressive writing for trauma. This study examined the impact of a 6-week expressive writing course led by John Evans, EdD, on measures of resilience, perceived stress, rumination, and depression in a population of 39 individuals who self-identified as having experienced a traumatic event within the past year. Initial data analysis suggests that the writing intervention had a positive, clinically significant effect on all outcome measures; further data analysis is ongoing.