Patients at a comprehensive cancer center have participated in a weekly writing program for 7 years. Anecdotal evidence following writing in this clinical setting appeared congruent with the results of expressive writing studies conducted in laboratory settings. To move expressive writing research beyond the laboratory, we evaluated the feasibility of engaging a clinical population in a structured expressive writing task while they waited for an appointment in a cancer clinic. Adult leukemia and lymphoma patients (n = 71) completed a baseline assessment, 20-minute writing task, postwriting assessment, and 3-week follow-up; 88% completed the writing task and 56% completed the follow-up. Participants reported positive responses to the writing, and immediately postwriting about half (49.1%) reported that writing resulted in changes in their thoughts about their illness, while 53.8% reported changes in their thoughts at the 3-week follow-up. Reports of changes in thoughts about illness immediately postwriting were significantly associated with better physical quality of life at follow-up, controlling for baseline quality of life. Initial qualitative analyses of the texts identified themes related to experiences of positive change/transformation following a cancer diagnosis. Findings support the feasibility of conducting expressive writing with a clinical population in a nonlaboratory setting. Cancer patients were receptive to expressive writing and reported changes in the way they thought about their illness following writing. These preliminary findings indicate that a single, brief writing exercise is related to cancer patients’ reports of improved quality of life.
J Health Psychol. 2013 Jun;18(6):727-36. doi: 10.1177/1359105312462434. Epub 2012 Nov 23.
Martino ML1, Freda MF, Camera F.
This study assesses the effects of Guided Written Disclosure Protocol on psychological distress in mothers and fathers of off-therapy acute lymphoblastic leukemia children. An experimental group participated in the writing intervention with a control group subject only to test-taking standards. The Symptom Questionnaire and Profile of Mood States were administered at baseline, post-intervention, and follow-up. Guided Written Disclosure Protocol had significant effects on the progressive reduction of anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms, hostility, tension-anxiety, and fatigue-inertia within the experimental group. However, the control group distress levels tended to worsen over time. The mediating role of emotional processing was highlighted.
Qual Health Res. 2015 Mar;25(3):348-59. doi: 10.1177/1049732314551059. Epub 2014 Sep 22.
Freda MF1, Martino ML2.
There is literary evidence stating that expressive writing affects health outcomes. Nevertheless, the processes underlying its benefits remain unclear. In our previous article, we described the benefits of writing; in this article, we investigate the meaning-making processes underlying the traumatic experiences of parents of children with leukemia in off-therapy. We collected the writings of 23 parents and grouped them according to the parents’ psychological outcome (low/good/high) with respect to anxiety, as assessed during a follow-up. We qualitatively analyzed the texts written by parents with good psychological outcomes to highlight their main meaning-making processes, that is, how they put into words the shattering experience, reordered the events, connected their emotions and the events, reevaluated the event, and reconstructed the time process. We found that parents with low/high outcomes articulated these processes differently. Furthermore, we discussed the uses and functions of written narration for each group.