Effects of written anger expression in chronic pain patients: making meaning from pain

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Abstract

Based on prior research demonstrating benefits of emotional disclosure for chronically ill individuals and evidence that anger is particularly problematic in chronic pain sufferers, outpatients from a chronic pain center (N = 102) were randomly assigned to express their anger constructively or to write about their goals non-emotionally in a letter-writing format on two occasions. Letters were coded for degree of expressed anger and meaning-making (speculation and insight into conditions that precipitated anger). Over a 9 week period, participants in the anger-expression group (n = 51) experienced greater improvement in control over pain and depressed mood, and marginally greater improvement in pain severity than the control group (n = 51). Degree of expressed anger uniquely accounted for intervention effects and meaning-making mediated effects on depressed mood. These findings suggest that expressing anger may be helpful for chronic pain sufferers, particularly if it leads to meaning-making.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by awards from the American Psychological Association and Stony Brook University to Jennifer Graham. Marci Lobel received support from NIH Grant R01HD39753. We thank Drs. Susan Brennan and Anne Moyer for advice with study methodology, the director (Dr. Carole Agin), physicians, staff, and patients at the pain center, and our capable team of research assistants.

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Correspondence to Jennifer E. Graham.

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Graham, J.E., Lobel, M., Glass, P. et al. Effects of written anger expression in chronic pain patients: making meaning from pain. J Behav Med 31, 201–212 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-008-9149-4

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Keywords

  • Chronic pain
  • Anger expression
  • Written emotional disclosure
  • Meaning-making
  • Depression
  • Control