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Healing Through Expressive Writing

By Melissa Carroll

Qian Lu, associate professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at UH

A study conducted by Qian Lu, associate professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at UH, shows writing about fears, emotions and potential positive aspects of cancer diagnosis may improve the quality of health for Asian-American breast cancer survivors.

Cancer patients sometimes experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Lu wanted to research ways to reduce the psychological burden among minority patients, particularly Asian-American breast cancer survivors — a group that had received little focus in previous studies.

She noted that some challenges with this group include feeling stigmatized, shame associated with cancer, cultural beliefs of carrying the burden alone to maintain harmony, concealing emotions and a lack of trained mental health professionals with cultural and linguistic competency.

According to Lu, previous research found that writing about emotionally difficult events, even for short amounts of time over a few days, increased the writer’s immune system’s utility. The release offered by writing directly impacts the body’s capacity to endure stress and fend off infection and disease.

Participants in the study were asked to complete a standardized health assessment and write 20 minutes each week for three weeks. Three sealed envelopes were mailed simultaneously to the participants. Each envelope contained unique writing instructions for the corresponding week.

The results, gathered through questionnaires at three and six months after the writing assignments, showed an impact.

“The findings suggest participants perceived the writing task was easy, revealed their emotions and disclosed their experiences in writing that they had not previously told others. Participants reported they wrote down whatever they thought, and felt the intervention was appropriate and valuable,” said Lu.

Lu shared the results associated with this study included less fatigue, intrusive thoughts and post-traumatic stress, along with an increase in quality of life and positive mindset.

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