To identify differential health benefits of written emotional disclosure (ED).
Pain-coping style and demographic characteristics were examined as potential moderators of ED treatment efficacy in a randomized controlled trial with female fibromyalgia patients.
Of three pain-coping styles, only patients classified as interpersonally distressed (ID) experienced significant treatment effects on psychological well-being, pain, and fatigue. Treatment effects on psychological well-being were also significantly greater for patients with a high level of education.
Patients with an ID-coping style and/or high education appear to benefit most from ED.
J Clin Oncol. 2014 Mar 1;32(7):663-70. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2013.50.3532. Epub 2014 Jan 27.
This randomized controlled trial examined the quality-of-life benefits of an expressive writing (EW) intervention for patients with renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and identified a potential underlying mechanism of intervention efficacy.
PATIENTS AND METHODS:
Patients (N = 277) with stage I to IV RCC were randomly assigned to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings regarding their cancer (EW) or about neutral topics (neutral writing [NW]) on four separate occasions. Patients completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (MDASI), Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (SF-36), and Impact of Event Scale (IES) at baseline and 1, 4, and 10 months after the intervention.
The mean age of participants (28% stage IV; 41% female) was 58 years. Multilevel modeling analyses, using a Bonferroni-corrected α = .021 for six outcomes adjusted for the correlation among outcomes, revealed that, relative to the NW group, patients in the EW group reported significantly lower MDASI scores (P = .003) and higher physical component summary scores on the SF-36 (P = .019) at 10 months after the intervention. Mediation analyses revealed that significant group differences for MDASI scores at 10 months were mediated by lower IES scores at 1 month after the intervention in the EW group (P = .042). No significant group differences were observed in the BFI, CES-D, PSQI, and mental component summary of the SF-36.
EW may reduce cancer-related symptoms and improve physical functioning in patients with RCC. Evidence suggests that this effect may occur through short-term improvements in cognitive processing.
J Health Psychol. 2005 Mar;10(2):211-21.
This study examined the effects of expressive writing on depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pain symptoms among women who have survived intimate partner violence (IPV). Forty-seven women completed baseline and four-month follow-up assessments and were randomly assigned to four writing sessions of either expressive writing focused on traumatic life events or writing about a neutral topic. Main effects were not significant for changes in depression, pain or PTSD symptoms. However, among depressed women, those assigned to expressive writing showed a significantly greater drop in depression. For depressed women with IPV histories, expressive writing may lead to reduced depression.
J Gen Intern Med. 2010 Oct;25(10):1064-70. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1418-6. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
Affect and how it is regulated plays a role in pain perception, maintenance of pain, and its resolution. This randomized, controlled trial evaluated an innovative affective self-awareness (ASA) intervention, which was designed to reduce pain and improve functioning in individuals with fibromyalgia.
PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS:
Forty-five women with fibromyalgia were randomized to a manualized ASA intervention (n = 24) or wait-list control (n = 21). The intervention began with a one-time physician consultation, followed by 3 weekly, 2-h group sessions based upon a mind-body model of pain. Sessions focused on structured written emotional disclosure and emotional awareness exercises. Outcomes in both conditions were measured by a blinded assessor at baseline, post-intervention, and 6-month follow-up.
The primary outcome was pain severity (Brief Pain Inventory); secondary outcomes included tender-point threshold and physical function (SF-36 Physical Component Summary). Intent-to-treat analyses compared groups on outcomes using analysis of covariance and on the proportion of patients achieving ≥ 30% and ≥ 50% pain reduction at 6 months.
Adjusting for baseline scores, the intervention group had significantly lower pain severity (p < 0.001), higher self-reported physical function (p < 0.001), and higher tender-point threshold (p = 0.02) at 6 months compared to the control group. From baseline to 6 months, 45.8% of the ASA intervention group had ≥ 30% reduction in pain severity, compared to none of the controls (p < 0.001).
The affective self-awareness intervention improved pain, tenderness, and self-reported physical function for at least 6 months in women with fibromyalgia compared to wait-list control. This study suggests the value of interventions targeting emotional processes in fibromyalgia, although further studies should evaluate the efficacy of this intervention relative to active controls.
Pain. 2011 Apr;152(4):866-77. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.003.
Studies of the effects of disclosing stressful experiences among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have yielded inconsistent findings, perhaps due to different disclosure methods–writing or speaking–and various methodological limitations. We randomized adults with RA to a writing (n=88) or speaking (to a recorder) sample (n=93), and within each sample, to either disclosure or 1 of 2 control groups (positive or neutral events), which conducted four 20-minute, at-home sessions. Follow-up evaluations at 1, 3, and 6 months included self-reported, behavioral, physiological, and blinded physician-assessed outcomes. In both writing and speaking samples, the disclosure and control groups were comparably credible, and the linguistic content differed as expected. Covariance analyses at each follow-up point indicated that written disclosure had minimal effects compared with combined controls–only pain was reduced at 1 and 6 months, but no other outcomes improved. Spoken disclosure led to faster walking speed at 3 months, and reduced pain, swollen joints, and physician-rated disease activity at 6 months, but there were no effects on other outcomes. Latent growth curve modeling examined differences in the trajectory of change over follow-up. Written disclosure improved affective pain and walking speed; spoken disclosure showed only a marginal benefit on sensory pain. In both analyses, the few benefits of disclosure occurred relative to both positive and neutral control groups. We conclude that both written and spoken disclosure have modest benefits for patients with RA, particularly at 6 months, but these effects are limited in scope and consistency.
Transl Behav Med. 2012 Mar;2(1):73-81. doi: 10.1007/s13142-011-0085-4.
Life stress and the avoidance of negative emotions may contribute to chronic pain. The technique of written or spoken emotional disclosure can reverse emotional avoidance and improve health, and 18 randomized studies have tested it among people with chronic pain. We review these studies to provide guidance for the clinical use of this technique. The benefits of emotional disclosure for chronic pain are quite modest overall. Studies in rheumatoid arthritis show very limited effects, but two studies in fibromyalgia suggest that disclosure may be beneficial. Effects in other populations (headaches, cancer pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain) are mixed. Moderator findings suggest that some patients are more likely to benefit than others. Emotional disclosure has been tested in well-controlled efficacy trials, leaving many unanswered questions related to translating this technique to practice. Issues needing further study include determining disclosure’s effects outside of randomized controlled trials, identifying the optimal pain populations and specific individuals to target for disclosure, presenting a valid rationale for disclosure, selecting the location and method of disclosure, and choosing between cognitive-behavioral or emotional disclosure techniques.
J Consult Clin Psychol. 2014 Aug;82(4):644-58. doi: 10.1037/a0036958. Epub 2014 May 26.
Two psychological interventions for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are cognitive-behavioral coping skills training (CST) and written emotional disclosure (WED). These approaches have developed independently, and their combination may be more effective than either one alone. Furthermore, most studies of each intervention have methodological limitations, and each needs further testing.
We randomized 264 adults with RA in a 2 × 2 factorial design to 1 of 2 writing conditions (WED vs. control writing) followed by 1 of 2 training conditions (CST vs. arthritis education control training). Patient-reported pain and functioning, blinded evaluations of disease activity and walking speed, and an inflammatory marker (C-reactive protein) were assessed at baseline and 1-, 4-, and 12-month follow-ups.
Completion of each intervention was high (>90% of patients), and attrition was low (10.2% at 12-month follow-up). Hierarchical linear modeling of treatment effects over the follow-up period, and analyses of covariance at each assessment point, revealed no interactions between writing and training; however, both interventions had main effects on outcomes, with small effect sizes. Compared with control training, CST decreased pain and psychological symptoms through 12 months. The effects of WED were mixed: Compared with control writing, WED reduced disease activity and physical disability at 1 month only, but WED had more pain than control writing on 1 of 2 measures at 4 and 12 months.
The combination of WED and CST does not improve outcomes, perhaps because each intervention has unique effects at different time points. CST improves health status in RA and is recommended for patients, whereas WED has limited benefits and needs strengthening or better targeting to appropriate patients.
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Sep 1;12(9):1437-1447. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx084.
Affect labeling (putting feelings into words) is a form of incidental emotion regulation that could underpin some benefits of expressive writing (i.e. writing about negative experiences). Here, we show that neural responses during affect labeling predicted changes in psychological and physical well-being outcome measures 3 months later. Furthermore, neural activity of specific frontal regions and amygdala predicted those outcomes as a function of expressive writing. Using supervised learning (support vector machines regression), improvements in four measures of psychological and physical health (physical symptoms, depression, anxiety and life satisfaction) after an expressive writing intervention were predicted with an average of 0.85% prediction error [root mean square error (RMSE) %]. The predictions were significantly more accurate with machine learning than with the conventional generalized linear model method (average RMSE: 1.3%). Consistent with affect labeling research, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC) and amygdalae were top predictors of improvement in the four outcomes. Moreover, RVLPFC and left amygdala predicted benefits due to expressive writing in satisfaction with life and depression outcome measures, respectively. This study demonstrates the substantial merit of supervised machine learning for real-world outcome prediction in social and affective neuroscience.
Health Psychol Rev. 2014;8(3):339-61. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2014.882007. Epub 2014 Feb 18.
Decades of research have suggested that expressive writing produces physical and psychological benefits in controlled laboratory experiments among healthy college students. This work has been extended to clinical and medical populations, including cancer patients. Although expressive writing could be a promising and inexpensive intervention for this population, the effects have not been systematically examined in oncology samples. A systematic review using PRISMA guidelines was conducted for experimental trials of cancer patients who participated in an expressive writing intervention. PsycINFO and PubMed/Medline were searched for peer-reviewed studies. Thirteen articles met the inclusion/exclusion criteria. Although the majority of the intervention effects were null, there were several main effects for expressive writing on sleep, pain, and general physical and psychological symptoms. Several moderators were identified, suggesting that expressive writing may be more or less beneficial based on individual characteristics such as social constraints. The reviewed studies were limited due to representativeness of the samples, performance, detection and patient-reported outcomes biases, and heterogeneity of the intervention protocol and writing prompts. Future studies with rigorous designs are needed to determine whether expressive writing is therapeutically effective in cancer patients.