Alternative Title

Positive emotion


Recent theories of positive emotion, including the broaden and build theory, propose that positive emotion can broaden one's range of thoughts and actions and build long-lasting personal resources (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000; Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). However, little research exists on how positive emotion is expressed in the context of discussing interpersonal trauma in psychotherapy. The current study explored the expression of positive emotion during discussions of interpersonal trauma over the course of an individual case of psychotherapy as related to the broaden and build theory. The client-participant in this single-case study was a 28-year-old African American female who presented to treatment reporting difficulties in relationships and work problems. The course of therapy was 21 sessions, 15 of which were videotaped, with 6 of the videotaped sessions containing discussions of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and workplace psychological harassment (WPH). In these 6 sessions, the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker, Chung, Ireland, Gonzales & Booth, 2007) was used to identify positive emotion words; smiles and laughter were coded to identify expression of positive affect; and assessment measures and qualitative themes were analyzed to better understand the context and course of therapy. The findings of the current case study supported previous literature in that positive emotion was expressed during discussion of trauma. Results were also consistent with the broaden and build theory in that the client-participant demonstrated behaviors consistent with the theoretical components of broadening; although other variables may have contributed to this result. Limitations included the LIWC's potential inability to identify all of the positive emotions that the client-participant expressed verbally and its lack of consideration of cultural context in verbal expression of emotion. Yet, the findings of this study not only provide potential ways to operationally define/identify broaden and build constructs, but also can inform therapists working with trauma survivors that the expression of positive emotion during discussion of trauma may occur more often than not, and could be normative, an indication of avoidance, or a sign of strength or resilience, which could help to promote quality of life and possibly flourishing

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (PsyD) -- Psychology; Emotions -- Health aspects; Psychic trauma -- Treatment

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hall, Susan;