Disclosure of sexual victimization: the effects of Pennebaker's emotional disclosure paradigm on physical and psychological distress

J Trauma Dissociation. 2010;11(2):193-209. doi: 10.1080/15299730903502979.


Research suggests that many sexual assault survivors do not disclose their experience, which may increase associated distress. Pennebaker's emotional disclosure paradigm has been shown to ameliorate psychological and physical distress in individuals exposed to stressful events. The current study assessed the effectiveness of this paradigm with sexual assault survivors (N = 74). College women with a history of sexual assault wrote about their most severe victimization or about how they spend their time (control). Then 73 women (98.6%) completed a 1-month follow-up assessment. Results indicated that across writing sessions, the disclosure group reported greater reductions in negative mood immediately post-writing. However, both groups showed significant reductions in physical complaints, psychological distress, and traumatic stress symptoms at the 1-month follow-up, suggesting no added benefit to disclosure of a sexual assault using a brief written paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Rape / psychology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Universities
  • Writing*