Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 397–414 | Cite as

Cognitive-Behavioral Models of Emotional Writing: A Validation Study

  • Adam J. GuastellaEmail author
  • Mark R. Dadds
Original Article


Previous research suggests that the Pennebaker writing paradigm may improve physical and psychological health; however, inconsistent findings suggest that it may not be suitable for community dissemination in its current format. This study manipulated writing instructions across groups in order to emphasise putative emotional processes. Three processes were isolated consistent with Cognitive-Behavioral models of trauma: exposure, devaluation, and benefit-finding. Essay content reports, text analysis, distress, arousal, and physiological data demonstrated that participants assigned to different writing instructions responded during and after the writing session in a manner that was consistent with the putative emotion process. The results highlight the potential for the writing paradigm as a research tool for emotional processing.


Emotion-processing Cognitive-Behavioral Writing Disclosure Trauma 



The authors would like to thank Penelope Davis, John O’Gorman, Michelle Moulds, Stefanie Sharman, James Pennebaker, and Graham Davey for advice and testing materials. This Research partially supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery Grants.


  1. APA (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington DC: APA.Google Scholar
  2. Affleck, G., Tennen, H., & Rowe, J. (1991). Infants in crisis: How parents cope with newborn intensive care and its aftermath. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  3. Brewin, C.R., Dalgleish, T., & Joseph, S. (1996). A dual-representation theory of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychological Review, 670–686.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, E., & Heimberg, R. (2001). Effects of writing about rape: Evaluating Pennebaker’s Paradigm with a severe trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14(4), 781–790.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burt, M. R., & Katz, B. L. (1987). Dimensions of recovery from rape: Focus on growth outcomes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2(1), 57–81.Google Scholar
  6. Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (1998). Beyond recovery from trauma: Implications for clinical practice and research. Journal of Social Issues, 54(2), 357–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chambless, D. L., Caputo, G. C., Bright, P., & Gallagher, R. (1984). Assessment of fear of fear in agoraphobics: The Body sensations questionnaire and the agoraphobic cognitions questionnaire. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52(6), 1090–1097.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davey, G. C. L. (1993). A comparison of three cognitive appraisal strategies: The role of threat devaluation in problem-focused coping. Personality and Individual Differences, 14(4), 535–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davey, G. C. L. (1997) Conditioning model of phobias. In Phobias: A Handbook of theory, research and treatment. New York: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. Davey, G. C. L., Burgess, I., Rashes, R. (1995). Coping strategies and phobias: the relationship between fears, phobias, and methods of coping with stressors. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 34(3), 423–434.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Davey, G. C. L., McDonald, A. S., Ferguson, C. E., O’Neill, A., Shepherd, J., & Dawn B. (1999). Cognitive neutralising strategies, coping and psychological health Unpublished Manuscript, University of Sussex, Brighton.Google Scholar
  12. Davis, C. G., Nolen Hoeksema, S., & Larson, J. (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience: Two construals of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 561–574.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. M. (2000). A cognitive model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(4), 319–345.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Esterling, B. A., L’Abate, L., Murray, E. J., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1999). Empirical foundations for writing in prevention and psychotherapy: Mental and physical health outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 19(1), 79–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Foa, E., & Kozak, M. (1986). Emotion processing of fear: Exposure to corrective information. Psychological Bulletin, 99(1), 20–35.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gidron, Y., Peri, T., Connolly, J., Shalev, A. (1996). Written disclosure in post-traumatic stress disorder: Is it beneficial for the patient? Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 184(8), 505–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greenberg, M. A., & Stone, A. A. (1992). Emotional disclosure about traumas and its relation to health: Effects of previous disclosure and trauma severity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(1), 75–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greenberg, M. A., Wortman, C. B., & Stone, A. A. (1996). Emotional expression and physical heath: Revising traumatic memories or fostering self-regulation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(3), 588–602.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guastella, A. J., & Dadds, M. R. (2005). Emotional writing tasks and trauma: A controlled trial of multiple processes. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  20. Honos-Webb, L., Harrick, E. A., Stiles, W. B., & Park, C. L. (2000). Assimilation of traumatic experiences and physical-health outcomes: Cautions for the Pennebaker paradigm. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 37(4), 307–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Janoff-Bulman, R. (1989). Assumptive worlds and the stress of traumatic events: Applications of the schema construct. Social Cognition, 7(2), 113–136.Google Scholar
  22. Jaycox, L. H., Foa, E. B., & Morral, A. R. (1998). Influence of emotional engagement and habituation on exposure therapy for PTSD. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(1), 185–192.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. King, L. A., & Miner, K. N. (2000). Writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events: Implications for physical health. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(2), 220–230.Google Scholar
  24. Kovac, S., & Range, L. (2000). Writing projects: Lessening undergraduates unique suicidal bereavement. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 30(1), 50–60.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kloss, J. D., & Lisman, S. A. (2002). An exposure-based examination of the effects of written emotional disclosure. British Journal of Health Psychology, 7(1), 31–46.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Littrell, J. (1998). Is the re-experience of painful emotion therapeutic? Clinical Psychology Review, 18(1), 71–102.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meads, C., Lyons, A., & Carroll, D. (2003) The impact of the emotional disclosure intervention on physical and psychological health—a systematic review. (Tech Rep. No. 45). West Midlands, United Kingdom: University of Birmingham, Department of Public Health and Epidemiology.Google Scholar
  28. O’Leary, V. E., Alday, C. S., & Ickovics, J. R. (1998). Models of life change and posttraumatic growth. In: R. G. Tedeschi, & C. L. Park (Eds.), Posttraumatic growth: Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis. The LEA series in personality and clinical psychology (pp. 127–151). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  29. Paez, D., Velasco, C., & Gonzalez, J. L. (1999). Expressive writing and the role of alexythimia as a dispositional deficit in self-disclosure and psychological health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(3), 630–641.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pennebaker, J. W., Francis, M. E., & Booth, R. J. (2001). Linguistic inquiry and word count: LIWC2001. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Publishers.Google Scholar
  31. Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of traumas and immune function: Health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 239–245.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pennebaker, J. W., Mayne, T. J., & Francis, M. E. (1997). Linguistic predictors of adaptive bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(4), 863–871.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rosenberg, H. J., Rosenberg, S. D., Ernstoff, M. S., Wolford, G. L., Amdur, R. J., Elshamy, M. R., Bauer-Wu, S. M., Ahles, T. A., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2002). Expressive disclosure and health outcomes in a prostate cancer population. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 32(1), 37–53.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smyth, J. M. (1998). Written emotional expression: Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(1), 174–184.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stroebe, M., Stroebe, W., Schut, H., Zech, E., & van den Bout, J. (2002). Does disclosure of emotions facilitate recovery from bereavement? Evidence from two prospective studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(1), 169–178.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Suedfeld, P., & Pennebaker, J. (1997). Health outcomes and cognitive aspects of recalled negative life events. Psychosomatic Medicine, 59, 172–177.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Taylor, S. E., Lichtman, R. R., & Wood, J. V. (1984). Attributions, beliefs about control, and adjustment to breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(3), 489–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tedeschi, R. G., Park, C. L., & Calhoun, L. G. (1998). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual issues. In: R. G. Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Posttraumatic growth: Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.Google Scholar
  39. Tennen, H., & Affleck, G. (1998). Personality and transformation in the face of adversity. In: R.G. Tedeschi, & C. L. Park (Eds.). Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis. The LEA series in personality and clinical psychology (pp. 65–98). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  40. Van Minen A., & Hagenaars, M. (2002). Fear activation and habituation patterns as early process predictors of response to prolonged exposure treatment in PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15(5), 359–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations