Emotional Expression and Health

Emotional Expression and Health

Emotional Expression and Health

Emotional Expression and Health

Synopsis

'Emotional Expression and Health' covers the major themes that are important for gaining insight into the role emotional expression & inhibition may play in staying healthy or falling ill.

Excerpt

In popular lay beliefs and western folk psychology the expression of emotions, including crying, is often considered to be beneficial for one's health. Accordingly, inhibition and repression of emotions are believed to result in maladaptive chronic activation of the body and, consequently, ill health. In addition, people are generally convinced that talking about emotional experiences with others is beneficial and facilitates emotional recovery. Freud encouraged patients to remember traumatic events and to re-experience the negative emotions as vividly as possible (Freud, 1915/1957). Although he already had some doubts concerning the efficacy of cathartic therapy and abandoned it, many others in the medical community did not. In the 1940s, there were several examples of publications in which the positive effects of this approach were described. Symonds (1954), for example, concluded in his review of the literature that catharsis was the most frequent cause of success in psychotherapy.

The past decade has witnessed renewed interest in the role of emotional expression and non-expression in health (e.g. Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 1999). An increasing number of studies have been conducted on this theme, both in the tradition of (quasi-)experimental research on general mechanisms (including intervention studies) and in research into individual differences in emotional expression. For instance, a Medline search on “emotional expression” revealed 1,782 hits, of which 1,176 were from the past ten years. For Psyclnfo the corresponding figures were 1,419 and 782, respectively, suggesting an even greater increase in interest from the medical community.

Studies on emotional disclosure in relation to health, as developed by the social psychologist James Pennebaker (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; see also reviews by Pennebaker, 1997; Smyth, 1998), have stimulated research employing the (quasi) experimental approach. This author introduced a paradigm in which individuals write for some days about traumatic or emotional experiences. The effects of this written self-expression on psychological and physiological functioning, and health, are then examined. In addition, psychophysiologists started studying the immediate effects of expressing or holding back emotions on physiological, in particular cardiovascular, processes (e.g. Brosschot & Thayer, 1998; Gross & Levenson, 1993, 1997; Labott et al., 1990). This research has advanced theoretical thinking

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