THE BENEFITS OF CLASSIC AND ENHANCED TASKS OF EXPRESSIVE WRITING FOR THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF FEMALE FRESHMAN STUDENTS: A Pilot Study

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ABSTRACT

The main tenet of the Expressive Writing procedure is that by disclosing stress related emotions and thoughts in writing, one may experience improved physical and psychological health. The main purpose of the present study was to investigate the differentiated effect of two Expressive Writing tasks on female freshmen: the classic task and the classic task enhanced with REBT. Our results indicate that both tasks succeed to significantly reduce levels of depression, nevertheless, only the classic task enhanced with REBT is able to enhance other aspects of the affective life as well. On the other hand, neither task is able to induce significant increases in positive affect.

KEYWORDS: emotional disclosure, expressive writing, REBT.

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INTRODUCTION

Like it or not, stress in its various manifestations and effects, is a real presence in our life. Since it is one of the most important factors for both maintaining and impairing human functioning (Selye, 1976), one could say that it is both a friend and an enemy. If one handles stress adaptively, it could be used in one's own advantage (for example, stress turned into an incentive for further adaptive actions). On the other hand, the literature abounds in well-documented evidence regarding the effects of maladaptive management of intense (traumatic) short- or long-term stressors, moderate long-term distress, or even cumulative minor stressors. These different forms of stress may all seriously impair different aspects of functioning (cognitive, behavioral, physiological, emotional, social, etc.) (Aldwin, 2007; McEwen, 1998; Spiegel, 1999).

Obviously, stress bothers us and impairs our functioning most when it becomes our 'enemy'. Maladaptive reactions to stress (on either level of its manifestation), "can disrupt virtually all aspects of our lives" (Pennebaker, 2007, p. xiii). In time, by recalibrating or readjusting specific coping mechanisms, one may overcome the negative effects of stress. Sadly, the number of those who fail doing so is increasing; the percentage of individuals complaining of and being diagnosed with pathological levels of mental and emotional disorders is constantly growing (Green Paper, 2005).

Emotions: shared and disclosed

The expression and sharing of one's emotions after confronting stressful events is an innate, natural need of most individuals (Rimé, 2007). Anthropology has recounted that for ages, humans (especially Westerners, but not exclusively) have appealed to this form of relief both in normal and ritualistic contexts (secular or religious, private or public) with the specific purpose of healing (different forms of symbolic healing, for more see Davis-Floyd, 1992; Georges, 2007). In most Western cultures, confession-like forms of disclosure have a long history both in folk understanding and much recently for specialists as well. At different periods of time, one of the major roles of confessional disclosure was that of facilitating self-knowledge (...), either for being able to compare behavior in order to overcome defects (e.g., Stoics), or for exposing hidden thoughts and sins, thus attaining relief (e.g., Christian fate) (for more see Georges, 2007).

Confess your faults one to another,

and pray one for another,

that ye may be healed.

James 5:16

Come to Me, all of you

who are weary and carry heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Later, when confession became mandatory in most Christian religious systems, the 'treatment' of sins via confession got embedded in depth in folkunderstanding as well (Georges, 2007).

Early forms of psychotherapy borrowed the function of self-disclosure, slowly altering the primarily religious purposes into more medical ones (Georges, 2007). Since "with few exceptions, the medium by which people come to alter their self-perceptions is language" (Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001, p. …