Emotional processing in therapy interviews and vocal expression of feelings

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Edward J. Murray - Committee Chair


A comparison of a brief problem-focused, cognitive therapy condition and a pure vocal expression condition was examined with regard to emotional processing, outcome measures, and individual differences. Sixty college students who were distressed about a personal loss (i.e. death of close relative or friend, parent's divorce, or breakup of a close relationship) were asked to talk with a therapist about their loss or vocally describe their loss while alone in a room. Subjects participated in 20 minute sessions, once per day over four consecutive days, and all sessions were audio-taped. Results indicated that both treatment groups showed substantial therapeutic effects with regard to decreased experiences of avoidance and intrusive thoughts, decreased negative thoughts, and reduced painful feelings over the course of treatment. In addition, a content analysis showed that, for both treatment groups, cognitive changes, adaptive behavioral changes and self-esteem changes increased over days while negative emotion decreased. Differential therapeutic results showed that the immediate emotional reaction was more positive and less negative for psychotherapy relative to pure vocal expression. In addition, a postexperimental questionnaire showed that the psychotherapy group felt better about themselves and changed their thinking about the topic relative to the vocal expression group. Neither group reported any longterm general health benefits. Individual difference variables generally did not affect outcome. Correlational analyses of potential therapeutic ingredients revealed that the arousal of negative affect was inversely related to positive outcome. In contrast, the amount of positive affect and cognitive changes were, to a greater extent, associated with positive outcome. These findings suggest that brief cognitive therapy is somewhat more effective in promoting therapeutic resolution regarding traumatic events than pure vocal expression of feelings, although both groups showed powerful treatment effects. Results also suggest that the generation of positive affect and cognitive changes, rather than negative affect expression, played a greater role in therapeutic outcome for both groups.


Psychology, Clinical

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