Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lilly, Michelle M.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Frontline treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been extensively researched, and there is significant support for their efficacy in decreasing PTSD symptomatology and improving life quality. However, the treatments seem to be burdensome, as a significant minority does not improve or drops out before the continuation of treatment. This pattern could be explained partially by the time commitment, cost of and access to treatment, and the resulting emotional overload. Therefore, it is useful to explore other avenues that could lead to improvements in symptomatology and well-being and that are more accessible and manageable. One possible direction is expressive writing (EW), a task that has highlighted the value of writing and emotional disclosure in improving well-being and health. EW has been found to benefit traumatized and nontraumatized populations struggling with a variety of concerns (e.g., romantic breakups, cancers, depression, PTSD, sexual disorders). Indeed, EW is being applied as a core component of a newly developed treatment for PTSD which has received preliminary support. However, more investigations are needed to test whether the valence of the writing task plays a role in recovery and mood. Some have found that positive valence writing tasks lead to comparable improvements; none have tested it in a sample endorsing PTSD symptomology. Further, research has not been successful in identifying different moderators of the writing task. The proposed study aimed to address this gap by comparing the short-term impact of a positive writing task to the effects of a classic EW task. Undergraduates with a history of traumatic exposure and presenting with PTSS were invited to complete the study. Thirty-eight participants completed two, 15-minute writing tasks on two days, completed a follow-up time-point immediately after the second writing session, as well as a two-week follow-up to measure potential changes in PTSD symptomatology and life satisfaction. Results showed that, controlling for trauma history, both conditions significantly improved in PTSD symptomatology at the two-week follow-up, and the two conditions were deemed statistically equivalent. Life satisfaction overall did not change over time, but there were significant group and sex differences in changes in life satisfaction. Specifically, male participants and those in the positive valence condition improved significantly more at the two-week follow-up. Finally, the classic condition seemed to lead to a greater reduction in positive mood compared to the positive condition, which suggests that participants may experience a lower level of emotional burden when engaged in a positive writing task.


152 pages




Northern Illinois University

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