Caring for Caregivers: Assessing the Influence of Expressive Writing on Cancer Caregivers’ Emotional Well-being, Relational Satisfaction, and Comforting Sensitivity
Harvey, Jacquelyn A.
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The reception of social support is a known predictor of psychological and physical well-being, with research suggesting that increases in recipient well-being are more likely to ensue when a support provider offers high quality support (Bodie & Burleson, 2008). Although much research has examined predictors and outcomes associated with social support, little work has assessed whether increases in provider support quality can be achieved. The reception of high quality support is particularly important for populations already at an increased risk of morbidity/mortality (Cohen, 1988). Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) cancer survivors consist of one such population with prevalent late-onset and long term health effects post-cancer treatment (Sryjala, Martin, & Lee, 2012). In addition, research suggests that HSCT survivor well-being is strongly associated with the social support they receive from partners (Rini et al., 2011). Research has also determined that a support provider’s own well-being is predictive of the quality of support s/he provides (Revenson & Majerovitz, 1990), but that caregivers/support providers of HSCT cancer survivors can experience decreased well-being due to prolonged stress associated with the cancer experience (Bishop et al., 2007). This suggests it is important for researchers to find ways to improve support quality via increasing caregivers’ well-being, as this would potentially benefit both interactants. As such, a primary goal of this dissertation was to determine whether increases in HSCT spousal cancer-survivor caregivers’ well-being, and thus their support provision quality, would ensue following an expressive writing intervention. Participants (N = 64) consisted of spousal caregivers of HSCT survivors who were 1-3 years post-transplant. Participants completed a 17-day intervention in which a pretest survey captured baseline levels of psychological functioning and support quality (measured via reported responses to a hypothetical scenario, as well as descriptions of naturally-occurring support interactions). They were then randomly assigned to one of two expressive writing conditions (expressive disclosure [ED] or benefit-finding [BF]), or to a time-management [TM] control condition, and they completed these writings three separate times, at one-week intervals. After completing the intervention, participants were surveyed on posttest levels of psychological functioning and support quality. Posttest reports were then used to predict changes in support provision quality. Results suggest that, for this population, support quality (measured via naturally-occurring support situations) may be improved upon through the use of particular ways of writing. Results also suggest that aspects of caregiver well-being may be positively, and sometimes negatively, affected by expressive writing.
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