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      The Event-Specific Benefits of Writing About a Difficult Life Experience


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          Previous research demonstrates that writing about life’s difficult moments benefits the writer cognitively and emotionally. However, it is unclear whether the benefits of writing are specific to the event written about or whether the benefits are global. This study was designed to address this issue. Participants were 120 undergraduate students who had experienced at least two difficult life events. Participants were randomly assigned into experimental and control groups. Experimental participants wrote about one of these difficult events and control participants wrote about an interesting life event of their choosing. Experimental participants reported their positive and negative emotions as well as their cognitive avoidance and intrusion concerning the event written about and another event not written about. Control participants reported their emotions and cognitions concerning two difficult life events. All participants also reported their general distress. These assessments were done immediately after writing and one week later. The results indicated that experimental participants were emotionally stronger, less upset, and less cognitively avoidant about the particular difficult life event they wrote about compared to an event they did not write about. Similar comparisons between ratings of a written-about and a not-written-about event were not significant for passion, fear, and cognitive intrusion. There was evidence for a possible indirect effect of writing on general distress through changes in event-specific cognitions and emotions. Discussion of these results focuses on how writing may specifically help change a writer’s feelings and thoughts about a particular situation.

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              Data were obtained on the general population epidemiology of DSM-III-R posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including information on estimated life-time prevalence, the kinds of traumas most often associated with PTSD, sociodemographic correlates, the comorbidity of PTSD with other lifetime psychiatric disorders, and the duration of an index episode. Modified versions of the DSM-III-R PTSD module from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule and of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview were administered to a representative national sample of 5877 persons aged 15 to 54 years in the part II subsample of the National Comorbidity Survey. The estimated lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 7.8%. Prevalence is elevated among women and the previously married. The traumas most commonly associated with PTSD are combat exposure and witnessing among men and rape and sexual molestation among women. Posttraumatic stress disorder is strongly comorbid with other lifetime DSM-III-R disorders. Survival analysis shows that more than one third of people with an index episode of PTSD fail to recover even after many years. Posttraumatic stress disorder is more prevalent than previously believed, and is often persistent. Progress in estimating age-at-onset distributions, cohort effects, and the conditional probabilities of PTSD from different types of trauma will require future epidemiologic studies to assess PTSD for all lifetime traumas rather than for only a small number of retrospectively reported "most serious" traumas.

                Author and article information

                Eur J Psychol
                Europe's Journal of Psychology
                Eur. J. Psychol.
                26 February 2021
                : 17
                : 1
                : 53-69
                [a ]Department of Psychological Science, University of North Georgia, Oakwood, GA, USA
                [b ]Department of Psychology, Westfield State University , Westfield, , MA, , USA
                [c ]Department of Psychology, University of Memphis , Memphis, , TN, , USA
                [4]Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
                Author notes
                [* ]Department of Psychological Science, University of North Georgia, 3820 Mundy Mill Rd., Oakwood, GA, 30566, USA. cmatthewstapleton@ 123456gmail.com
                Author information

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 02 August 2019
                : 11 May 2020
                Self URI (journal-page): https://journals.psychopen.eu/
                Research Reports

                expressive writing,specificity effects,cognitive avoidance,intrusive thoughts,positive emotions,negative emotions


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