Expressive Writing for the Treatment of Gay-Related Stressors

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According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, writing about stressful or traumatic events related to one’s sexual identity may be an effective treatment for gay-related stress.

The study was conducted by John E. Pachankis and Marvin R. Goldfried of the Yeshiva University and Stony Brook University, respectively.

Gay-related stress refers to stress caused by discrimination, harassment, and other difficulties related to sexual identity. As the authors of this study note, “In a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, Mays and Cochran (2001) found that LGB individuals were nearly twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to experience discrimination in their lifetimes, such as being harassed or fired from a job.”

For their study, Pachankis and Goldfried recruited 80 gay men from 22 universities.

The participants of this study were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group of participants wrote “over a period of 3 days about their most stressful or traumatic gay-related event,” the second group wrote “over a period of 3 days about such an event after reading their writing from the previous day,” and the third group wrote about what occurred each day for three days. The third group, which was not instructed to write about gay-related stressors, was used as a control group.

The participants in all groups were tested for a number of variables the day before and after the three days of writing. These variables included measures of self-concealment, social support, and self-esteem. The participants also completed a three month follow-up questionnaire.

“Participants who wrote about gay-related stress reported significantly greater increases in openness about their sexual orientation after 3 months than participants who were assigned to write about mundane events,” asPachankis and Goldfried explain.

“Further, participants who benefited most from such an intervention were those who wrote about a more distressing topic and those who had lower levels of social support.”

Although Pachankis and Goldfried had predicted the group that wrote about a gay-related stressor after reading their writing from the previous day would show greater improvements than the group that only wrote about a gay-related stressor without reading the previous day’s writing, there appeared to be no significant difference between the two groups.

Pachankis and Goldfried also acknowledged that their results were limited due to having a sample composed entirely of college students.

“Finally, the specific results of this study may be limited to those gay men represented by the sample used here, namely those who are young, literate, and disproportionately White. Thus, future research must test the effectiveness of this type of intervention with a sample of LGB men and women that is more representative of the U.S.”

Reference:

Pachankis J.E. & Goldfried, M.R. (2010). Expressive writing for gay-related stress: psychosocial benefits and mechanisms underlying improvement. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 78, No 1: 98-110.

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