Writing as a coping mediator between psychological and physical health
Type of DegreeDissertation
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Individuals who have survived a traumatic event demonstrate vast and numerous resulting psychological and physiological symptoms. After a trauma, the individual utilizes some type of coping technique to deal with the repercussions of the stressful event. The coping strategy that the individual employs following a traumatic event likely influences the resulting outcome. However, the conceptual question of the intervening variable remains. The focus of the current study examines how expressive writing serves as a coping mediator between a stressful or traumatic experience and the resulting psychological and physiological outcomes. Ninety-four female prison inmates from a maximum state penitentiary participated in the study. They completed a demographics questionnaire, self-report psychological and physical health questionnaires, and trauma exposure questionnaires. Participants provided heart rate, blood pressure levels, and salivary cortisol levels as well. Participants wrote for 20 min a day for three consecutive days about a traumatic event or the previous day’s events following the protocol established in the expressive writing literature. A seven-week follow-up was conducted with the same measurements. Participants showed improvements in their mental and physical well-being across time regardless of the writing condition assigned. However, the expected difference between the groups was not demonstrated. Conclusions can be drawn from the current research that over time writing, regardless of the assigned group, shows psychological and physical benefits to individuals who have endured a traumatic event. In this study, the stress of the environment itself may have been a factor in the lack of significant differences between the groups. The difficulty in processing traumatic memories in an unsafe environment may have influenced the outcome data. Future studies should categorize the number and severity of the traumatic events and assess for PTSD diagnosis to determine if there are differences in processing the trauma through expressive writing based on trauma level. Examining individuals in the community with similar trauma levels, but without the added current stressor of incarceration, would also be beneficial for determining the effects of writing on trauma.