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Psychosomatic Medicine:
Original Articles

Effect of Written Emotional Expression on Immune Function in Patients With Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Randomized Trial

Petrie, Keith J. PhD; Fontanilla, Iris MSc; Thomas, Mark G. MD; Booth, Roger J. PhD; Pennebaker, James W. PhD

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Abstract

Objectives: To determine whether writing about emotional topics compared with writing about neutral topics could affect CD4+ lymphocyte count and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) viral load among HIV-infected patients.

Methods: Thirty-seven HIV-infected patients were randomly allocated to 2 writing conditions focusing on emotional or control topics. Participants wrote for 4 days, 30 minutes per day. The CD4+ lymphocyte count and HIV viral load were measured at baseline and at 2 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after writing.

Results: The emotional writing participants rated their essays as more personal, valuable, and emotional than those in the control condition. Relative to the drop in HIV viral load, CD4+ lymphocyte counts increased after the intervention for participants in the emotional writing condition compared with control writing participants.

Conclusions: The results are consistent with those of previous studies using emotional writing in other patient groups. Based on the self-reports of the value of writing and the preliminary laboratory findings, the results suggest that emotional writing may provide benefit for patients with HIV infection.

Copyright © 2004 by American Psychosomatic Society

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