Public Disclosure Offers More Psychological Benefits than Private Disclosure

Public disclosure of personal experiences, feelings or events, is becoming a more widely accepted form of psychological healing than private disclosure. “For instance, one recent experiment showed that undergraduates who wrote about an unresolved stressful experience that was then submitted to the researchers, as opposed to kept private, experienced less depression and fewer physical symptoms at 3-month follow-up,” said Diane E. MacReady of the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. “After all, even therapy patients have been shown to alter their written self-descriptions (i.e., to be more favorable) when they believe their therapist will (versus will not) view their descriptions.” Public disclosure may be more cathartic than private disclosure because of the accountability attached to it. “As public behavior is known to others, it cannot be cancelled, ignored, or forgotten,” said McReady, lead author of a new study comparing the psychological benefits of private versus public disclosure. “We propose that when people publicly disclose a personal story, secret, or traumatic event to others, this revelation allows them to feel less anxiety and fewer negative emotions surrounding the story, which in turn reduces their physical and psychological symptoms,” she said.

In three separate studies, MacReady examined how private disclosure compared to public disclosure over shorter versus longer time periods. She also examined whether anonymity affected the positive benefits of disclosure. “Results revealed that in both experiments, participants in the public-disclosure condition reported significantly greater psychological symptom reduction at post-test than did participants in the private-disclosure condition,” said MacReady. “Moreover, the findings from Study 3 demonstrated that the public nature of the disclosures per se was tied to less psychological symptomatology in a sample of several hundred undergraduates.” Macready also pointed out that in the third study, the participants who wrote anonymously experienced greater reductions in psychological symptoms than the participants who identified themselves. She added, “Thus, it seems that indeed disclosing more publicly can be tied to greater psychological benefits.”

MacReady, Diane E., Rebecca Y.M. Cheung, Anita E. Kelly, and Lijuan Wang. “Can Public versus Private Disclosure Cause Greater Psychological Symptom Reduction?”Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 30.10 (2011): 1015-042. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Amy


    December 16th, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    I would never be comfortable talkin bout my problems with many people. I guess there are people who have that personality who would benefit from it but for some of us this is a big no-no.

  • Janie


    December 16th, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Good grief, I was always embarassed to have to get up and ever say anything to a group, much less talk specifically about myself. For me I know that this would cause way more anxiety than talking about anything in private would. This kind of goes against everything that is me, because while I don’t necessarily mind sharing with friends, close friends that is, I would have a very hard time feeling any kind of relief talking about my most private issues with people I did not even know.

  • fallon


    December 17th, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    It is a cleansing to admit to others your failures, but it sure does feel better to get it all out and feel like you can start over.

  • Tilda


    December 19th, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    Ok so I have to play a little devils advocate here:\
    has anyone stopped to think that while public disclosure could help the offender, what about the others around him or her that may have been hurt? In addition to the hurt that has been caused, think about the shame or the embarassment that others may have to face as the result of this public cleansing.
    I am all for admitting your sins and your faults and working through them and hopefully working toward overcoming them. But I am not going to air all of my dirty laundry for everyone else to gossip about and point fingers at those who very likely had little to do with it. Admit it to your family or whomever you may have hurt, but no one else should feel like they are necessarily entitled to know everything.

  • T.T


    December 19th, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    well a tough topic to take a call on but I would just say tat it comes down to what you are speaking of.nobody would want to speak publicly about something very personal or embarrassing!

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