Helping Yourself by Offering Help: Mediators of Expressive Helping in Survivors of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant

Timothy J. Williamson, Annette L. Stanton*, Jane E. Austin, Heiddis B. Valdimarsdottir, Lisa Maria Wu, Jennifer L. Krull, Christine Marie Rini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: A randomized experiment by Rini et al. (Health Psychol. 33(12):1541–1551, 2014) demonstrated that expressive helping, which involves three expressive writing sessions regarding hematopoietic stem cell transplant, followed by one writing session directed toward helping other stem cell transplant recipients, reduced psychological distress and bothersome physical symptoms among stem cell transplant recipients with elevated survivorship problems, relative to a neutral writing control condition. Purpose: The current study evaluated whether word use reflective of emotional expression, cognitive processing, and change in perspective mediates the effects of expressive helping. Method: The essays of 67 stem cell transplant recipients with high survivorship problems were analyzed with Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. Multiple mediation modeling was used to test the hypothesized mechanisms of expressive helping on distress and bothersome physical symptoms. Results: Relative to the control condition, expressive helping produced significant reductions in psychological distress and marginal reductions in physical symptom bother in the analyzed subset of participants from the parent study. Results indicated that positive emotion word use significantly mediated effects of expressive helping on reduced distress, but only for participants who used average (compared to above or below average) rates of negative emotion words. Cognitive processing and change in perspective did not significantly mediate benefits of expressive helping. Conclusions: Expressive helping carried its positive effects on distress through participants’ higher expression of positive emotions when coupled with moderate rates of negative emotions. Findings highlight the benefit of expressing both positive and negative emotions in stressful situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-693
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Cancer survivorship
  • Emotional expression
  • Expressive writing
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • Intervention
  • Mediation analysis
  • Peer helping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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