Sharing emotional experiences, or engaging in emotional disclosure, can be a cathartic process, resulting in reductions in stress, anxiety and tension. “In an opposite manner, the active concealment of distressing information is associated with psychological distress and physical symptoms such as headaches and backaches,” said Angela M. Garrison of the Department of Counselor Education and Counselor Psychology at Western Michigan University. Similarly, people with depression or anxiety often suppress their emotions to avoid facing negative feelings. Research has shown that individuals who have attachment issues struggle with emotional disclosure as well. Because emotional disclosure is so closely linked to depression and attachment, it is difficult to determine how each condition affects emotional regulation. “Specifically, depression symptoms and attachment are both associated with emotional disclosure, but depression symptoms and attachment are also related to each other,” said Garrison, lead author of a recent study on emotional disclosure. “For theory clarification, it is therefore important to disentangle the effect of depression symptoms on emotional disclosure from the potential effects of attachment on emotional disclosure.”
In order to isolate the effects, Garrison and her colleagues assessed 121 college students for depression and attachment problems, as well as emotional disclosure using a daily diary for seven days. “Results indicated that depression symptoms were negatively related to generalized disclosure tendencies and to intra-individual daily intensity-disclosure slopes,” said Garrison. “Attachment avoidance was negatively related to both generalized disclosure tendencies and to daily disclosure, and attachment anxiety moderated the relation between daily event intensity and disclosure.” She believes clinicians should be aware that a depressed client may need encouragement to disclose particularly difficult emotions. “Knowing this may enable clinicians to encourage these clients to talk about their emotions even when their initial reaction is to not share their feelings.” She added, “It may also be important for clinicians to encourage disclosure differently in clients who are avoidantly or anxiously attached given that recent research has supported the notion that attachment orientation does impact clients’ levels and patterns of disclosure in psychotherapy.”
Garrison, A. M., Kahn, J. H., Sauer, E. M., & Florczak, M. A. (2011, November 7). Disentangling the Effects of Depression Symptoms and Adult Attachment on Emotional Disclosure. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026132
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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