The Psychological and Physical Impact of Writing About Childhood Abuse

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lillian M. Range

Advisor Department



Using a writing process to allow former abuse victims to address the trauma that occurred may result in reduced depression, suicidal ideation, somatic complaints, and sleep disturbance. The purpose of this study was to examine the benefits, if any, derived from writing about abuse or a trivial topic. A second purpose was to compare the effects of writing about abuse or trivial topics to a no-writing control. A total of 664 undergraduate psychology students were screened for a history of physical or sexual abuse. Of those, 88 consenting participants completed pre-testing, were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (writing about abuse, writing about trivial topics, or no-writing control), completed post-testing, and completed four-week follow-up testing. Due to data distribution concerns, the suicidal ideation data were not included in final analyses. A series of 12 independent t tests were not significant. Exploratory analyses involving 3 (Condition: Abuse, Trivial, No-Writing) x 3 (Time: Pre-, Post-, Follow-up) mixed design repeated measures ANOVAs yielded no significant effects for condition, but four out of four main effects for time. Across conditions, at follow-up, all participants reported significantly less depression, somatic complaints, and less sleep disturbances, compared to pretest as well as posttest. All participants also reported significantly higher sleep quality at follow-up compared to posttest. Among college students who reported childhood physical or sexual abuse, participating in a research project where they received extra credit for their psychology class, seemed to help in terms of reducing depression, somatic complaints, and sleep disturbances, as well as improving sleep quality. This finding held true regardless of whether they wrote about their childhood abuse, a trivial topic, or nothing at all.