Expressing Emotions by Writing Helps HIV Patients
May 21, 2004
HIV-infected patients who disclose their deepest emotions in writing report less stress and may have improved immune responses, according to a recent study by US and New Zealand researchers. Dr. Kevin J. Petrie of the University of Auckland and colleagues said a review of studies of writing about emotional topics by patients with various diseases, including arthritis and asthma, showed "consistent and significant improvements in health outcomes after written emotional expression." The current report investigated whether this strategy might help HIV patients.
The researchers recruited 37 subjects, who were randomly assigned to an emotional writing group or to a control group. The subjects were assessed individually and then assigned to write for 30 minutes each day for four consecutive days in a small, private room. Writing in both groups was anonymous. The emotional writing group members were encouraged to explore deep feelings previously unexpressed. "Subjects were told they could write about HIV-related topics or any other issues of emotional importance to them," the authors noted. The control group participants were asked to write objectively about how they spent their time.
The researchers found that the emotional writing group subjects rated the experience as being more valuable than did those in the control group. In addition, "The CD4+ positive lymphocyte count increased gradually and continuously in the emotional writing group in the 6 months after the sessions." No CD4+ count change was detected in the control group.
The findings are consistent with those of other studies indicating that HIV-positive patients "who don't get to discuss their feelings, have a faster decline in their health," concluded the authors.
The study, "Effect of Written Emotional Expression on Immune Function in Patients with Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Randomized Trial," was published in the March/April edition of Psychosomatic Medicine (2004;66:272-275).
04.28.04; David Douglas
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.