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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 49 (2007) 2, 75 - 84

New research

Writing assignments about stressful and/or traumatic events do not benefit patients with anxiety disorders

N. Lammerts van Bueren

background Several studies have indicated that patients with mild anxiety symptoms may benefit from writing about life events that they have found stressful. However, there is very little research done into the effects of this technique.
aim To find out whether writing about stressful and/or traumatic events would also benefit patients with severe anxiety disorders.
method Our sample consisted of 32 patients (24 women and 8 men) with anxiety disorders. They were randomly assigned to 2 groups, one being an experimental group, the other a control group. Eighteen patients were asked to write about the most stressful events they had experienced and 14 were asked to write about trivial topics. Each patient completed 4 writing sessions over a 2-week period. A follow-up writing session took place six weeks later. Anxiety symptoms and mood were measured by means of the Symptom Check List, the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Impact of Event Scale and the Profile of Mood State. The immediate effect of writing on mood was scored by means of a simple questionnaire.
results The mood of the patients in the experimental writing group deteriorated markedly during a short time. Multivariate analyses conducted on repeated measurements did not reveal any significant effects. The interaction between the experimental group and the test scores was not significant either. At follow-up psychic functioning and mood in the experimental group were no better that in the control group.
conclusion Writing about stressful and/or traumatic events is a very taxing activity for patients (pain). This has often been demonstrated in the past. The results show that simply writing about stressful events is definitely not a successful way of reducing anxiety symptoms (no gain).

 

keywords anxiety disorders, writing, trauma