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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

doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000116782.49850.d3
Original Articles

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.

From the Department of Health Psychology (K.J.P., I.F.) and the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology (M.G.T., R.J.B.), University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand; and the Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX (J.W.P.).

Address reprint requests to: Keith Petrie, PhD, Department of Health Psychology, Faculty of Medical and Health Science, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. E-mail:

Received for publication November 17, 2002; revision received September 22, 2003.

Copyright © 2004 by American Psychosomatic Society
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