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Vol. 78, No. 3, 2009
Issue release date: April 2009
Psychother Psychosom 2009;78:145–151

Health and Physiological Effects of an Emotional Disclosure Intervention Adapted for Application at Home: A Randomized Clinical Trial in Rheumatoid Arthritis

van Middendorp H. · Geenen R. · Sorbi M.J. · van Doornen L.J.P. · Bijlsma J.W.J.
aDepartment of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, and bDepartment of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

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Background: The efficacy of emotional disclosure in alleviating psychological and physical stress has been well documented in controlled laboratory studies. A next step is to evaluate its clinical utility in ‘real world’ settings. We adapted the emotional disclosure intervention for use in home-based settings by stimulating the suggested effective ingredients of cognitive-emotional processing, and evaluated its psychological and clinical effectiveness. Reviews indicated the need to examine the physiological changes brought about by emotional disclosure, which may be particularly relevant in immune-mediated diseases. This study was the first to examine neuroendocrine and immune changes after emotional disclosure in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Methods: Sixty-eight patients were randomly assigned to four weekly oral emotional disclosure or time management sessions. At baseline and 1 week and 3 months after the sessions, depressed and cheerful mood, joint scores, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, cortisol, noradrenaline, interleukin-6 (IL-6), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and IL-10 were evaluated. Repeated measures analyses of variance were performed. Results: No effect on psychological well-being and clinical outcome was found (p ≥ 0.10). Cortisol (p = 0.01) and the serum level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IFN-γ (p = 0.05) were differentially affected by the two conditions. The change of IL-6 nearly reached significance (p = 0.07). Conclusions: The physiological changes are in agreement with theories on the mechanisms underlying emotional disclosure benefits and are suggestive of better disease control after emotional disclosure. General and study-specific reasons for the absence of psychological and clinical effects are discussed. The findings warn against widespread implementation of this home-based emotional disclosure intervention in unselected rheumatoid arthritis samples.

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