Richards, J. M., Beal, W. E., Seagal, J. D., & Pennebaker, J. (2000). “Effects of Disclosure of Traumatic Events on Illness Behavior Among Psychiatric Prison Inmates.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(1), 159-60.
Author Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Stanford University (Richards); Forest Institute of Professional Psychology (Beal); Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin (Seagal and Pennebaker)
Artforms: Creative writing
Program: Trauma Writing
Program Description: This study examined the effects of trauma writing on maximum-security, psychiatric prison inmates. Maximum-security psychiatric inmates, a group noted for high use of health services, were offered writing sessions over the course of three days.
Program (Study) Location: Psychiatric correctional venue, Midwest U.S.
Study Published: 2009
Participant Type: Adult male maximum-security psychiatric inmates, 47% sex offenders, 53% non-sex offenders, mean age 34.5 years
Sample Size: 98
Data Type: Quantitative; participants in the writing conditions completed a Symptom and Emotion Self-Report Survey after each day’s writing.
Study Design: This study was designed to test the hypothesis that “psychiatric prison inmates who wrote about traumatic events for 3 consecutive days would show a decrease in infirmary visits from 6 weeks pre- to 6 weeks postwriting; and that participants who either wrote about trivial topics or did not write at all would not evince such health improvement” (p.157). Participants were assigned to one of three conditions. Those in the first group were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding upsetting experiences (trauma writing condition). Those in the first control group (trivial writing control) were asked to write about an assigned trivial topics. Participants in the second control group (no-writing control) went about their daily routine without writing (no-writing control). Both writing groups wrote for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days.
Evaluation Focus: Health effects of writing for psychiatric prison inmates
Summary of Impact: This study extends previous research on the health benefits associated with writing about traumatic events to a psychiatric population of maximum-security prison inmates (p. 159). Results of the study found that:
● Trauma-writing participants visited the infirmary less often after writing compared with the two control groups.
● Those incarcerated for sex crimes were significantly more likely to show health improvement after trauma writing than non-sex offenders.
● A decrease in infirmary visits pre-to post-writing.
KEYWORDS: adult, creative writing, emotions, health, psychiatric, sex offenders, symptoms