Azara Blog: Letting cancer patients write about their feelings allegedly helps them

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Date published: 2008/03/22

The BBC says:

Encouraging cancer patients to write down their deepest fears about the disease may improve their quality of life, according to a US study.

Nancy Morgan, a "writing clinician", approached patients waiting in a clinic at a cancer centre in Washington DC.

Half those who took part said the exercise changed the way they thought about the illness, according to the journal The Oncologist.
Her "expressive writing" exercise, lasting just 20 minutes, posed questions to leukaemia or lymphoma patients about how the cancer had changed them and how they felt about those changes.

When those taking part were contacted again a few weeks later, 49% said that the writing had changed their thoughts about their illness, while 38% said their feelings towards their situation had changed.

While there was no evidence of direct impact of the session on their illness, where the patients had reported greater changes in their mindset during the writing, this could be linked to more positive reports of quality of life given to their doctors during follow-up appointments.

Ms Morgan said: "Thoughts and feelings, or the cognitive processing and emotions related to cancer, are key writing elements associated with health benefits, according to previous studies.

"Writing only about the facts has shown no benefit."

Yet another dubious health study. Surveys are pretty meaningless, especially ones which ask how people feel and doubly especially when the respondents knew that the purpose of the survey was to "prove" that these exercises were worthwhile. Presumably you could get the same kind of results from lots of methodologies, including just spending time with a patient letting them talk. All in all, the only question worth answering is whether there is actually real benefit that can be achieved in a cost effective way, i.e. what is the bang per buck?

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