Effects of writing about rape: Evaluating Pennebaker's paradigm with a severe trauma


  • This paper is based on a dissertation submitted by Elissa J. Brown to the Department of Psychology, University at Albany, State University of New York, chaired by Richard G. Heimberg, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree. Portions of this paper have been presented at the annual meetings of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (1995, November) and Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy (1996, November).


We examined the effect of disclosing to others an attempted or completed rape. Eighty-five undergraduate women who acknowledged attempted or completed rape wrote about their experience and read their narratives. In a 2 × 2 design, we examined the value of writing only factual information versus factual plus emotional information, and reading to oneself versus reading aloud to another woman. Before and 1-month after the task, symptoms of dysphoria, social anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder were assessed. Greater detail and a moderate level of personalization in the description of the trauma were associated with decreased symptoms of dysphoria and social anxiety. Neither the nature of the writing task nor the presence of another woman predicted degree of symptom reduction.