Mosher, C. E., Duhamel, K. N., Lam, J., Dickler, M., Li, Y., Massie, M. J., & Norton, L. (2012). Randomised trial of expressive writing for distressed metastatic breast cancer patients. Psychology and Health, 27, 88–100.doi: 10.1080/08870446.2010.551212
To examine the health effects—on existential and psychological well-being, fatigue, and sleep—of writing about the deepest cancer-related thoughts and feelings in patients with advanced breast cancer.
The study was a randomized trial, with interviewers blinded in regard to the group they were interviewing.
In this sample, expressive writing—compared to neutral writing—did not result in better existential and psychological well-being, reduced fatigue, or enhanced sleep quality. Although both writing groups showed little change in their distress over time, during the study, patients in the expressive writing group reported more than double the rate of mental health service use than did patients in the neutral writing group.
Expressive writing may have increased patients’ awareness of their distress and challenging circumstances, prompting the patients to seek mental health services. Further research is needed.
Expressive writing may increase use of psychological support services by distressed patients, without increasing symptom severity. Expressive writing may help keep patients in touch with their emotions, whether negative or positive. When patients are in touch with their emotions, they may be more likely to reach out for help, if they recognize negative emotions that they are not resolving on their own. However, this intervention did not result in differences in patient symptoms or outcomes.