Religious Coping in Cancer: A Quantitative Analysis of Expressive Writing Samples From Patients With Renal Cell Carcinoma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Context: Past religiosity/spirituality (R/S) research has mainly relied on self-report instruments, which may result in self-presentation and defensive biases. Objectives: To address these limitations, we reviewed the writing samples that were generated as part of an expressive writing (EW) trial, coded the samples for R/S content, and examined cross-sectional and prospective associations between R/S content and symptom and psychosocial outcomes. Methods: Participants diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma who were randomized to the EW arm completed a standard writing protocol. Before randomization, they completed validated measures of R/S, depressive symptoms, social support, fatigue, and sleep disturbances and one, four, and 10 months after completing the intervention. Writing samples were coded for positive and negative religious coping (RC), and personal (e.g., private prayer) and collective (e.g., church attendance) religious engagement (RE). Results: Of the 138 patients, 117 provided at least one writing sample, and 89% of participants made at least one R/S reference with 70% including at least one positive RC statement, and 45.3% revealed personal and 42.3% collective RE. Negative RC was rare (8%). Although positive RC and RE were significantly associated with the R/S Index (P < 0.01), negative RC was not. In prospective analyses, RE was associated with reduced cancer-related symptoms over time (P = 0.04), and negative RC was associated with increased psychological distress over time (P = 0.004). Conclusion: Behavioral coding of EW samples supported the literature suggesting that positive RC is common among patients with cancer. Although negative RC may be relatively rare, it may be associated with psychological distress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of pain and symptom management
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • cancer
  • expressive writing
  • God
  • quality of life
  • Religion
  • religious coping
  • spirituality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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