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Tuesday 6th December 2016
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Trauma 'eased by bottling it up'

2nd June 2008

A study of people's reaction to traumatic experience has found that people who are less willing to talk about a traumatic event shortly after it occurs could fare better psychologically than those who wanted to talk about it.

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Researchers in the United States found that people who talked about their reactions to the 9/11 attacks were still suffering some after-effects of the event two years later.

The University at Buffalo study compared the progress of 3,000 people who took different approaches over two years, none of whom had suffered a bereavement as a result of the attacks.

People who were initially unwilling to talk about their reaction were less likely to be adversely affected two years later, challenging the current view that talking was likely to be of greater benefit than not talking.

Study lead author Mark Seery said experts should be telling people that there was nothing wrong with them if they did not wish to express their thoughts and feelings after experiencing a collective trauma.

Dozens of different research projects have tested the best approach to trauma and the talking cure.

Participants in the Buffalo study completed online surveys in the days immediately following the 2001 attacks and over the course of the next two years.

The subjects self-selected into two groups: those who felt ready to talk about their feelings and reactions and those who did not.

People who took part were allocated to different groups depending on whether they said that they felt ready to express their feelings or not.

Two years later, those who preferred not to talk were in better shape than those who did want to talk, challenging the view that those who were initially uncommunicative would cope worse over time with their traumatic memories.

The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Seery said it showed that people who did not want to talk about their reactions could cope quite successfully.

Trauma psychologists said it was important, however, not to generalise about the "right" approach for all people.

Professor Stephen Joseph said that other studies had suggested that for many people, talking about their experiences with the support of proper counselling, was the correct road to recovery.

He added that those who wanted to talk more may have been more deeply affected by the disaster, and therefore it was unsurprising that they were still affected by it two years later.

 

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