Giving words to emotions: the use of linguistic analysis to explore the role of alexithymia in an expressive writing intervention

  • Alessia Renzi | Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy.
  • Rachele Mariani Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy.
  • Michela Di Trani Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy.
  • Renata Tambelli Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy.


Expressive writing techniques are methods focusing on written emotional expression that require people to write about traumatic or difficult experiences, with the objective of promoting an elaboration of these events. The general aim of the study is to investigate the influence of alexithymia, a deficit in emotional regulation processes, on the effects of an expressive writing intervention, analyzing the writing protocols through the use of the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWIC) and Referential Process (RP) linguistic measures via IDAAP software. Thirty-five women undergoing an assisted reproductive treatment participated in the study and filled out a sociodemographic questionnaire, the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale. They also underwent three session of writing, following a request that they write about their emotions regarding their current situation. The women enrolled were divided into two groups: low alexithymia and high alexithymia, comprising individuals with a TAS-20 total score lower or higher than the mean, respectively. Analyses within the groups during the three writing sessions revealed that the women with low alexithymia reported a greater number of words expressing affectivity, sadness and future perspective, whereas no significances in the high alexithymia group emerged. Moreover, when analysing differences between the groups, high-alexithymia women reported lower scores in RP indexes and fewer words expressing sadness, future perspectives and we verbal. In conclusion, these preliminary findings may confirm the hypothesis that alexithymia affects the effectiveness of expressive writing through a difficulty in becoming involved in the writing process and a lack of symbolizing processes.



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Expressive Writing Intervention, alexithymia, multiple code theory, linguistic measures
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How to Cite
Renzi, A., Mariani, R., Di Trani, M., & Tambelli, R. (2020). Giving words to emotions: the use of linguistic analysis to explore the role of alexithymia in an expressive writing intervention. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 23(2).