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Does emotional disclosure have any effects? A systematic review of the literature with meta-analyses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2005

Catherine Meads
University of Birmingham
Arie Nouwen
University of Birmingham


Objectives: Emotional disclosure has been widely publicized as having beneficial effects on physical and psychological health. A full systematic review was undertaken, with standard health technology appraisal methods, with the aim to assess the effects of emotional disclosure on healthy participants and those with pre-existing morbidity, particularly on longer-term physical health, performance, and psychological outcomes.

Methods: Randomized controlled trials of emotional disclosure were obtained from database searches (Medline (1966–2003), Embase (1980–2003), Cochrane Library (2002, issue 4), Web of Science (1981–2003), Cinahl (1982–2003), and Theses (March 2003), Internet sites (including Professor J.W. Pennebaker's home pages), and personal contacts. Quality was assessed qualitatively and by Jadad score. Meta-analysis was conducted, using Revman 4.1 software, where more than two trials reported the same outcome.

Results: Sixty-one trials were found meeting the inclusion criteria. Most had less than 100 participants and the median Jadad score was 0. A wide variety of physical, physiological, immunological, performance, and psychological outcomes were measured, but fewer were reported. There was no clear improvement for emotional disclosure compared with controls in objectively measured physical health and most other outcomes assessed.

Conclusions: The opinion that this intervention is beneficial needs to be reassessed in light of the totality of evidence available.

© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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