Tell me a story: The creation of narrative as a mechanism of psychological recovery following marital separation

Kyle J. Bourassa, Atina Manvelian, Adriel Boals, Matthias R. Mehl, David A. Sbarra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Divorce is a common stressor that is associated with increased risk for poor mental health. This study examined the creation of narrative as a psychological mechanism explaining the link between psychological overinvolvement and psychological distress in a sample of recently separated adults (N = 109). Prior analyses of this sample found iatrogenic effects of expressive writing (EW) on psychological distress among people reporting high levels of rumination. In this reanalysis, however, we tested whether narrative creation explained the association between individual differences in psychological overinvolvement and psychological distress, measured by a composite of depressive symptoms and divorce-related distress, 7.5 months later. Participants were assigned to one of three conditions: Traditional EW, narrative EW, or a control condition. Participants' psychological overinvolvement was assessed using a composite of three different methodologies: self-report, language use, and independently coded scores. Lower scores of psychological overinvolvement predicted more self-reported narrative coher ence across conditions. Greater narrative coherence in turn predicted lower subsequent divorce-related distress and depressive symptoms. Narrative coherence mediated the association of psychological overinvolvement with later psychological distress, though this effect varied by EW condition. The results suggest narrative creation is one plausible psychological mechanism driving emotional recovery following divorce.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-379
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • Depressive symptoms
  • Divorce
  • Expressive writing
  • Immediacy
  • Narrative
  • Psychological distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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