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UH Moment

UH Moment: ‘Expressive Writing’

Finding the right words to describe how one feels can be the first step toward recovery…as one University of Houston study found.



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Journaling can be cathartic in helping to make sense of traumatic events. Qian Lu, professor and director of the University of Houston Culture and Health Research Center, led a study on improving the health outcomes of Asian American breast cancer survivors by asking them to write about it. 

“One of the beauties of expressive writing is that it allows women to express emotion and regulate thoughts in their private language. They do not have to have fluent English,” Lu said.   

Lu says there have been more than 400 studies on cancer survivors over the last 30 years, but none has focused on Asian Americans. She says breast cancer rates in this population are increasing, but women may not seek services because of language or cultural barriers. Her National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study is the first of its kind.

“There’s just not much literature and little attention paid to this population. For example Asian American women are not used to seeking social support outside their family and usually don’t want to go to a psychologist or psychotherapist,” she said.

Her study asked survivors to write their feelings about their diagnosis, their stresses and any positive experiences, in hopes that the writing eased their trauma and improved their recovery.

“Many wrote that they felt like they had to go through this alone. They didn’t really know any other breast cancer survivors; they didn’t feel like they could talk with other people,” Lu said. “They didn’t really want to let their friends know they had breast cancer because they felt maybe it could bring bad luck to other women.”

She plans to expand the study and maybe apply it to other minority populations.

“Many participants wrote that they hoped their experiences would be helpful to future survivors,” she said. “They felt like they had to go through this process alone; they hope future survivors won’t have to.”

The Culture and Health Research Center is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m MR. 

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