Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Sandra E. Gramling

Second Advisor

Scott Vrana

Third Advisor

Wendy Kliewer

Fourth Advisor

Geraldine Lotze

Fifth Advisor

Sarah Kye Price


Bereavement is an important research area as it can result in grief reactions that lead to serious psychological and health consequences, particularly for the at-risk group of emerging adults (Arnett, 2000; Balk, Walker, & Baker, 2010; Fisher, Murray, & Frazer, 1985; Stroebe, Schut, & Stroebe, 2007). Expressive writing is a well-researched intervention for trauma and adjustment, yet research repeatedly has revealed null results with the classic Pennebaker paradigm as a bereavement intervention (Stroebe et al., 2002; Stroebe, Schut, & Stroebe, 2006). It may be premature, however, to conclude expressive writing is ineffective for the bereaved due to limitations in extant research. For example, Pennebaker’s paradigm is based on the premise that participants freely choose the stressful topic to write about, whereas expressive writing bereavement studies have required participants to write about their loss (Collison & Gramling, manuscript in preparation).

The present study reports on data from a larger study (Konig, Eonta, Dyal, & Vrana, 2014; N=246) that assessed psychological and physiological outcomes in college students who wrote about a traumatic stressor using Pennebaker’s paradigm. This provided the opportunity to rigorously test it with bereavement and compare death loss to other forms of trauma. Analyses examined the impact of expressive writing with the bereaved who freely identified death loss as the traumatic stressor (n=69) and were randomly assigned to either emotional disclosure or control writing on outcome measures of physical symptoms (PILL), event-related distress (DTS), and depression (CES-D). Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker, Mayne, & Francis, 1997) and Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA; Campbell & Pennebaker, 2003) results were also used to compare these groups. Exploratory analyses investigated potential differences between the bereaved and those who endorsed a non-bereavement trauma (“other trauma”; n=71) using outcome measures and text analytic techniques (i.e., PILL, DTS, CES-D; LIWC, LSA). Results were consistent with findings from previous expressive writing studies with the bereaved, in that the intervention resulted in no detectable benefits when compared with control writing. No remarkable differences between the bereaved and “other trauma” participants emerged. Researchers’ time may be better spent examining more clinically relevant writing exercises for bereavement interventions.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission