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Psychotherapy (Chic). 2019 Oct 24. doi: 10.1037/pst0000259. [Epub ahead of print]

Therapeutic writing as a tool to facilitate therapeutic process in the context of living with HIV: A case study examining partner loss.

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Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine.
Department of Clinical and Health Psychology.


For people with HIV/AIDS (PWHA), partner loss has unique factors that complicate the grieving process and can lead to prolonged bereavement. Empirical evidence has demonstrated the benefits of emotional disclosure through therapeutic writing on physical symptoms, immune responses, and psychological distress. Therapeutic writing is based on the assumption that writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings allows cognitive, behavioral, and kinesthetic processing of stressful life events and/or traumas. The present case study explores the benefits and challenges of using expressive writing, in addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy, to address partner loss and disenfranchised grief in the context of living with HIV. This article (a) reviews the literature on coping with loss and factors that can make PWHA more vulnerable to disenfranchised grief; (b) describes a former patient whose partner loss was complicated by lack of closure around the termination of his 6-year-long relationship, the death of that partner without the family informing him, and his anger surrounding his partner infecting him with HIV; and (c) discusses how the therapist created a comprehensive treatment plan using therapeutic writing to improve emotional processing. Results suggest that therapeutic writing assisted with symptom alleviation, improvement in psychological well-being, and increased overall quality of life. Although the loss of a partner is a common human experience, therapists need to be aware that PWHA may have additional or different care needs that can put them at risk of heightened or prolonged bereavement. Recommendations for using therapeutic writing are included. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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