Expressive writing and post-traumatic stress disorder: Effects on trauma symptoms, mood states, and cortisol reactivity

Joshua Morrison Smyth, Jill R. Hockemeyer, Heather Tulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives. This study investigates the boundary conditions (feasibility, safety, and efficacy) of an expressive writing intervention for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Design. Randomized trial with baseline and 3-month follow-up measures of PTSD severity and symptoms, mood states, post-traumatic growth, and (post-only) cortisol reactivity to trauma-related stress. Methods. Volunteers with a verified diagnosis of PTSD (N = 25) were randomly assigned to an experimental group (writing about their traumatic experience) or control group (writing about time management). Results. Expressive writing was acceptable to patients with PTSD and appeared safe to utilize. No changes in PTSD diagnosis or symptoms were observed, but significant improvements in mood and post-traumatic growth were observed in the expressive writing group. Finally, expressive writing greatly attenuated neuroendocrine (cortisol) responses to trauma-related memories. Conclusions. The present study provides insight into several boundary conditions of expressive writing. Writing did not decrease PTSD-related symptom severity. Although patients continue to exhibit the core features of PTSD, their capacity to regulate those responses appears improved following expressive writing. Dysphoric mood decreased after writing and when exposed to traumatic memories, participants' physiological response is reduced and their recovery enhanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology

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