Psycholinguistic Changes in Athletes' Grief Response to Injury After Written Emotional Disclosure

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Aditi Mankad
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Sandy Gordon
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Context:

Grief can be a common psychological characteristic of long-term injury, but few athletes are taught how to effectively deal with these intense emotions.

Objective:

To examine the effectiveness of Pennebaker's standard writing paradigm in improving athletes' psychological response to injury after engaging in written disclosure.

Design:

Repeated-measures design with 6 data-collection time points.

Setting:

Sport-injury clinics.

Participants:

9 elite long-term-injured athletes.

Measures and Intervention:

Participants were administered the Psychological Responses to Sport Injury Inventory and the Rehabilitation Beliefs Survey at 3 times preintervention and postintervention. Intervention comprised three 20-min writing sessions. Linguistic analyses were carried out using the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count to determine whether changes in word categories would be associated with postintervention changes in grief characteristics and rehabilitation-belief subscales.

Results:

There were significant differences in athletes' grief characteristics postintervention, with athletes feeling less devastated, dispirited, cheated, and restless by their injury and increasing the reorganization of their thoughts. Corresponding evidence from text analyses further supported these changes, with athletes linguistically demonstrating that they were actively working through their grief-related response using improved cognitive processing (F2,16 = 5.15, P = .019, η2 = .39) and the disinhibition of positive and negative affect (F2,16 = 4.05, P = .038, η2 = .34). There were no significant changes in athletes' rehabilitation beliefs, which remained high throughout the testing period.

Conclusions:

Overall, the findings demonstrated that written emotional disclosure was effective in enhancing psychological rehabilitation by contributing to a greater personal understanding of the injury event and attenuating athletes' grief-related response.

The authors are with the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.

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