Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2014 Dec 22;5:24917. doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v5.24917. eCollection 2014.
Treatments for adolescents affected by long-term loss in low- and middle-income countries are lacking. As school-based interventions are cost-efficient and easy to disseminate, an evaluation of this treatment setting for adolescents is worthwhile.
Examining the effect of a school-based unstructured emotional writing intervention (sensu Pennebaker, group 1) about the loss of a parent to reduce adaptation problems to loss, compared to writing about a hobby (group 2), and non-writing (group 3).
We randomly assigned 14-18-year-old Rwandan orphans to one of the three conditions (n=23 per condition). Before and after the intervention, subjects completed the Prolonged Grief Questionnaire for Adolescents and the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents, Part A, on depression as self-report measures of long-term effects of early parental loss.
Repeated measures analyses of variance showed no differential effect for any of the three conditions but revealed a significant effect of time at posttest regarding grief severity. Reduction of grief symptoms was significantly higher in subjects with elevated grief. Depressive symptoms showed no significant change from pre- to posttest in the emotional writing condition, whereas they significantly decreased in the control condition.
RESULTS imply that unstructured, brief emotional writing might not be indicated in adolescents affected by early parental loss who show severe and long-term distress; a more structured approach seems recommendable.
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 Fam Nurs. 2007 Aug;13(3):370-84.
Duncan E1, Gidron Y, Rabin E, Gouchberg L, Moser AM, Kapelushnik J.
This study examines whether structured writing about receiving a diagnosis and treatment for pediatric cancer reduces distress among highly distressed parents of children with cancer (PCWC). Eight PCWC completed measures of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and depressive symptoms at two baselines, and again after writing, with 1-month gaps between assessments. Using a guided disclosure protocol (GDP), parents were asked to write about receiving the diagnosis first in a chronological manner, then to explicitly label their emotions at the time of diagnosis and explain the impact of the child’s illness on their life. Finally, they were asked to reflect on current feelings, future coping ability, and personal growth. Although symptoms of distress did not change between baselines, significant reductions were found in PTSS from the first baseline to postwriting, but not in depression. This preliminary study suggests that the GDP may reduce PTSS in distressed PCWC.
J Trauma Dissociation. 2005;6(3):83-104.
Freyd JJ1, Klest B, Allard CB.
In the current study we sought, first, to distinguish associations with health arising from types of trauma as indicated by betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1996, 2001), and, second, to investigate the impact of disclosing a trauma history in survey form and/or writing essays about betrayal traumas. We recruited 99 community adults reporting at least 12 months of chronic medical illness or pain, 80 of whom completed all four sessions of this six-month longitudinal intervention study. Participants were randomly assigned to write about betrayal traumas or neutral events, and they were randomly assigned to complete an extensive trauma survey or a long personality inventory, producing four groups of participants. All 99 participants were assessed at their initial visit for trauma history using the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey (BBTS) and physical and mental symptoms. The BBTS assesses exposure to both traumas high in betrayal (such as abuse by a close other) and traumas low in betrayal but high in life-threat (such as an automobile accident). Exposure to traumas with high betrayal was significantly correlated with number of physical illness, anxiety, dissociation, and depression symptoms. Amount of exposure to other types of traumas (low betrayal traumas) did not predict symptoms over and above exposure to betrayal trauma. While neither the survey manipulation nor the writing intervention led to main effects on change in symptoms over time, there were interactions between betrayal trauma history and condition such that participants with many betrayal traumas fared better in the control conditions while participants with fewer betrayal traumas had better outcomes if they were placed in the trauma writing and/or survey conditions. We discuss ongoing and future research aimed at evaluating the role of increased structure in writing assignments as beneficial for those with severe histories of betrayal trauma.
J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2008 Dec;39(4):558-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2007.11.008. Epub 2008 Feb 6.
Guastella AJ1, Dadds MR.
We report on a controlled trial of three structured writing paradigms that engage the writer with cognitive-behavioural emotion-processes: exposure, devaluation, and benefit-finding. University students (N=198) wrote once a week for three weeks about their most upsetting experience. The long-term effects of these structured writing procedures were compared to an unstructured emotion writing condition and control. Outcomes indicated that exposure writing sped the reduction of intrusive and avoidant symptoms, while benefit-finding writing increased reports of positive growth. Results suggest the use of these paradigms to study emotion-processing mechanisms and, potentially, in practice to enhance coping in process-specific ways.