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Reducing psychiatric symptoms in patients with a writing programme

Writing intervention group bid to reduce psychiatric symptoms in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis

Writing intervention group bid to reduce psychiatric symptoms in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis


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The Pennebaker expressive writing intervention (EWI) was found to reduce adverse effects of a cancer diagnosis on the patient’s psychiatric health and perceived quality of life, according to a recent study.

Researchers randomly allocated 71 newly diagnosed patients with cancer into an intervention group and a control group (35 and 36 participants respectively). The patients completed baseline self-report questionnaires assessing their quality of life, psychiatric history and symptoms and alexithymia (the personality construct that can be translated from Greek as meaning having no words for emotion, or the inability to identify and describe feelings and emotions of the self). The same measurements were recorded at six months.

Patients in the intervention group were found to have reduced psychopathology, such as decreased anxiety, depression or rancour, and small but significant improvements in alexithymia levels and health-related quality of life.

Writing about, reflecting upon and interpreting traumatic events has been used formerly and formally in various psychotherapeutic settings. Journals, diaries, blogs, logs and questionnaires are some of the forms of writing that have afforded people the opportunity to explore, explain and express their emotion and stress and address the negative effects that this might have on their health and wellness.

Chair of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, James Pennebaker has previously reported upon the relationship between expressive writing and well-being and developed a prompt to stimulate writing about the thoughts and feelings about life experiences.


La Marca L, Maniscalco E, Fabbiano F et al (2018) Efficacy of Pennebaker’s expressive writing intervention in reducing psychiatric symptoms among patients with first-time cancer diagnosis: a randomized clinical trial. Supportive Care in Cancer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-018-4438-0

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