Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Terri N. Sullivan


Research suggests college students with high incidence disabilities experience more distress than their peers without disabilities as they adapt to college. The expressive writing paradigm developed by Pennebaker and Beall (1986) effectively reduced distress in college students and other nonclinical samples when participants wrote about emotions they experienced surrounding an upsetting event. Previous research on expressive writing has not addressed the effectiveness of the paradigm with students with disabilities. A randomized control trial study examined changes in distress and daily hassles for participants with disabilities who engaged in expressive writing compared to a control condition in which participants wrote about non-emotional topics. Emotional competencies and coping were also explored as possible proximal outcomes, while distress at baseline and social support were explored as possible moderators of expressive writing outcomes. Fifty seven students, 51% male and mostly European-American (83.6%), from a large, public university and a local community college both in the Southeastern United States, wrote for 15 minutes on three consecutive days on their own personal computers, with assessment at pre-test, post-test and 30-day follow-up. Expressive writing did not significantly decrease stress or daily hassles, nor did treatment condition differ from the control condition on any of the factors examined. Discussion of participant factors explored possible ceiling effects due to low baseline distress scores and possible limitations related to employing a sample of students with disabilities who are currently receiving college-level support services. Other methodological and procedural issues were also discussed as they relate to best expressive writing practices as well as meeting the needs of students with disabilities. For example, although use of the computer for writing was deemed important for this group of participants, longer writing sessions that may be necessary to impact psychological outcomes could be difficult for students with disabilities. Future directions include qualitative analysis of writing samples in order to develop areas of concern for this population, beginning and ending expressive writing to align with the college academic calendar, as well as use of a control group without disabilities in order to control for baseline levels of distress. This document was created in Microsoft Word 2003.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

July 2009

Included in

Psychology Commons