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Monday, June 09, 2008

"Holding it in" may sometimes be better

"Talk it out. That's the first advice most victims are given in the wake of trauma. Conventional wisdom would suggest that burying one's emotions after a violent incident — such as a school shooting or terrorist bombing — will only lead to deeper anxiety later on. Yet, while mental health practitioners widely subscribe to this truism, it has rarely been tested outside a laboratory setting — past studies have found a lack of convincing evidence to support the use of psychological debriefing to mitigate trauma — and some experts think the theory doesn't hold up in every situation.

"What [researchers] discovered surprised them — participants who chose not to discuss their feelings right after the attacks often fared better over the subsequent two years than those who did. "We constantly tell people it's wrong to hold feelings inside," says lead author Mark Seery, a psychology professor at Buffalo. "But our findings [suggest] the exact opposite." "

Article here.

It's easy to understand how "talking it out" became an important therapy recommendation. For one thing, people who go to therapists and "talk it out" generally get better over time. Therefore, there's a bias to thinking that it was the therapy that helped. Of course, most people in general recover from trauma over time, regardless of treatment.

Second, I would guess that "talking it out" in various forms accounts for a fair amount of the revenue for the psychological therapy industry, although I don't have any figures. This can create its own form of subconscious bias.

Third, it seems like something to do, and in a trauma situation there's the feeling that we should do SOMETHING. Remember all those lines to give blood after Sept 11, even though much of that blood wasn't needed?

Like most research studies, this one has limitations, and it is to Time's credit that it points out some of these in the article.

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