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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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