Effect of written emotional expression on immune function in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection: a randomized trial

Psychosom Med. 2004 Mar-Apr;66(2):272-5. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000116782.49850.d3.


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.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count*
  • Expressed Emotion*
  • Female
  • HIV / immunology
  • HIV / isolation & purification
  • HIV Antibodies / immunology
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • RNA, Viral / immunology
  • Viral Load / statistics & numerical data
  • Writing*


  • HIV Antibodies
  • RNA, Viral