Effects of writing about traumatic and stressful experiences on health outcomes in military personnel

Springer, Barbara Ashby, 1963-
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The purpose of this dissertation was to compare the use of a short duration, large group writing intervention to two placebo conditions. It was hypothesized that four months after a writing intervention, military personnel assigned to write about traumatic and stressful life experiences, compared with a control group and a comparison group, would demonstrate improved health outcomes as measured by reductions in their number of visits to military medical facilities, number and duration of limited duty, number and duration of lost days from work, number and duration of hospitalizations, and number of military dropouts. 248 male (n = 169) and female (n = 79) U.S. Army active duty soldiers aged 18-46 (M = 25.39, SD = 5.79) consented. 145 attended the intervention and were randomly assigned to one of two writing groups: a) a control group (n = 52) assigned to write about neutral topics, and b) an experimental group (n = 93) assigned to write about traumatic or stressful experiences. Each participant was scheduled to write 20 minutes for four consecutive days. However, only 29 (11.7% of 248) wrote all four days. A third group was then formed, which consisted of soldiers who signed the consent form, but did not write (n = 103). Outcome measures were collected for the four months prior to participation to establish a baseline and for the four months following the intervention. A 3 (Group) by 2 (Time) MANOVA with repeated measures on Time was used to test the hypothesis. Results did not support the hypothesis. Although there was a main effect of Time [F (7, 166) = 4.161, p < .001) and all groups had reductions in their health outcome measures, there were no significant multivariate main effects of Group [F (14, 332) = 1.1, p = .361] or Time by Group interactions [F (14, 332) = .849, p = .615] for any of the dependent variables. Expressive writing did not appear to influence health outcomes in this population four months following the intervention. The practical limitations of conducting this study in a military population, along with methodological and environmental limitations are discussed.