Linguistic Markers of Processing Trauma Experience in Women’s Written Narratives During Different Breast Cancer Phases: Implications for Clinical Interventions

Maria Luisa Martino, Raffaella Onorato, Maria Francesca Freda


Research into the change processes underlying the benefits of expressive writing is still incomplete. To fill this gap, we investigated the linguistic markers of change in cognitive and emotional processing among women with breast cancer, highlighting the differences and peculiarities during different treatment phases. A total of 60 writings were collected from 20 women: 10 receiving chemotherapy and 10 receiving biological therapy. We performed a series of repeated measures ANOVA for the most meaningful LIWC linguistic categories, including positive/negative emotions and cognitive processes, to assess change over three sessions. Results demonstrated a significant increase in the positive emotions category for the entire group of women, with particular relevance for the biological therapy group of women, and a marginally significant (p = .07) greater use of words indicating cognitive processes for women receiving biological therapy. For the negative emotions category time was significant for the whole group of women, showing a peak of use in the second session of writing. Peculiar differences in the linguistic markers of processing trauma were observed between the two groups. Although the writing intervention is a support for both groups of women, it seems to be beneficial when there is a large time gap since the administration of chemotherapy and, thus, when the patient can revisit the experience. The relationship of the illness with life can be rearticulated, and the writing becomes a space for resignifying the traumatic cancer experience.


linguistic markers; expressive writing; narrative; emotional and cognitive processing; breast cancer; clinical interventions

Full Text: PDF HTML