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Modifying Affective and Cognitive Responses Regarding Body Image Difficulties in Breast Cancer Survivors Using a Self-Compassion-Based Writing Intervention

Abstract

The body image-related concerns of breast cancer survivors following treatment are not always adequately addressed. Self-compassion, which is the capacity to adopt a kind, caring attitude to oneself in times of difficulty, has been linked to decreased psychological distress. The aim of this study was to determine the affective and cognitive impact of a self-compassionate writing activity regarding adverse bodily changes. Female breast cancer survivors (N = 105) were recruited through an Australian consumer organization and completed an initial background questionnaire including Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale, Body Image Scale, Body Appreciation Scale and Self-Compassion Scale. Participants were then randomly allocated to either a self-compassion-focused (experimental) or unstructured writing (control) condition regarding their experiences of body image difficulties after cancer treatment. Ratings of affect and cognition were assessed immediately prior to, and following, completion of the paper-based writing activity. Multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA), controlling for pre-intervention levels of affect and cognition, indicated a significant main effect for the experimental condition, F(2, 104) = 4.70, p = 0.01, and η p 2 = 0.08. Univariate tests revealed significantly lower negative affect and greater self-compassionate attitude in experimental compared to control participants. Writing according to self-compassionate-focused prompts resulted in lower levels of negative affect and an increased self-compassionate attitude during exposure to difficult memories related to body image, compared with unstructured writing about these experiences. These findings provide preliminary evidence for the usefulness of a relatively simple and inexpensive self-compassionate writing intervention to address body image-related issues in breast cancer survivors, with potential application of this model to many other client settings.

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Acknowledgment

The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).

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Correspondence to Kerry A. Sherman.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution: Macquarie University Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical Sciences), Reference No. 5201200298, title “Short Term Self-Compassion Exercise for Body Image in Breast Cancer Survivors.”

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Przezdziecki, A., Sherman, K.A. Modifying Affective and Cognitive Responses Regarding Body Image Difficulties in Breast Cancer Survivors Using a Self-Compassion-Based Writing Intervention. Mindfulness 7, 1142–1155 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0557-1

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Keywords

  • Self-compassion
  • Mindfulness
  • Breast cancer
  • Body image
  • Psychological distress
  • Writing