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Keywords:

  • Pennebaker;
  • therapeutic writing;
  • disordered eating;
  • ineffectiveness

Abstract

Written emotional expression using Pennebaker's paradigm has been shown to produce significant improvements in health and psychological functioning in student groups and some clinical groups. This paradigm has not been examined with respect to disordered eating or its associated psychopathology. The current study examined 98 female university students (mean age = 22.75 years, SD = 8.31) who were randomly assigned to either an emotional expression writing condition relating to past trauma, or a control writing condition that focused on future planning. The students repeated the writing task on three occasions in 1 week. All measures were completed at baseline and 10-week follow-up; measures of distress were additionally completed after each occasion of writing. A significant two-way interaction was found for ineffectiveness and disordered eating showing both variables to decrease in the planning compared to the emotional expression condition over time. A significant three-way interaction for externalised self-perception showed different levels of denial coping affected the helpfulness of both writing paradigms. Investigation of a variety of forms of structured therapeutic writing is advocated with clinical eating disorder populations. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.