The role of emotional expression was explored in the writings of adolescent children of parents with cancer. Participants ages 12-18 (n=40) were assigned randomly to write in 3 sessions about their thoughts and feelings regarding their parents’ cancer (experimental condition) or their time management (fact control condition). Physical health (i.e., doctor visits, school absences, physical symptoms) and psychological health variables (i.e., internalizing and externalizing behavior, depression, anxiety, positive emotion, negative emotion, post traumatic growth) were assessed as a function of writing condition and participants’ temporal orientation (i.e., the time period on which a person bases the majority of his or her perceptions of reality). Results from analysis of covariance indicated experimental condition was related to decreases in negative affect, self reported depression symptoms, parent-reported anxiety symptoms, and parent- reported internalizing problems in the adolescent participants and increases in post traumatic growth reported by the adolescent participants. Past temporal orientation was related to increased conduct problems reported by parents, increased physical symptoms, and decreased school absences. Conduct problems scores reported by parent were related to increased positive affect, increased anxiety, and decreased illness-related doctor visits. Adolescent Atypicality scores were related to increased parent-reported anxiety in the child, physical symptoms, and school absences. Problem solving coping was related to decreased anxiety, and behavioral avoidance coping was related to increased depression as reported by parent and increased internalizing problems as reported by parent. Given the significant results for the experimental condition, the findings are discussed in light of future possible research on the use of emotional expressive writing in adolescents as well as use of emotional writing tasks as interventions for adolescent children of cancer patients.
J Pediatr Psychol. 2006 Jul;31(6):557-68. Epub 2005 Jul 13.
To test the effects of written emotional disclosure on the health of adolescents with asthma and to examine how language in disclosures predicts outcomes.
We randomized 50 adolescents with asthma to write for 3 days at home about stressful events (disclosure) or control topics. At baseline and 2 months after writing, we assessed symptoms, affect, disability, internalizing behavior problems, and lung function; parents independently rated internalizing behavior and disability.
Compared with control writing, disclosure writing led to improved positive affect and internalizing problems. Disclosure also decreased asthma symptoms and functional disability among adolescents with baseline elevations of these difficulties. Lung function was not changed. Disclosures with more negative emotion, insight, and causal words–and increased causal or insight words over days–predicted improved health.
Written emotional disclosure improves emotional and behavioral functioning among adolescents with asthma, particularly those whose writings suggest emotional processing and cognitive restructuring.