Evaluation of a Web-based writing intervention as a means of preventing distress and job burnout among professional helpers
Giardina, Todd David
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Previous research suggests hospice and palliative care professionals may be susceptible to secondary trauma, burnout, and unfavorable health effects. Journaling has minimized such effects in other populations. The authors hypothesized that scheduled journaling over the Internet about work-related experiences with patients and their families would provide statistically significant benefits in mood, burnout, and quality of life. All participants ( n =23) had medical or mental health backgrounds and were actively working with terminally ill adults and/or children, or with families grieving a loss. Using a randomized, controlled, repeated measures experimental design, participants were assigned to one of two groups: (a) experimental ( n =12), journaling about personal or professional growth stemming from a difficult experience in patient care, or, (b) control ( n =11), writing about the neutral topic of time management. Follow-up assessments were administered one week and three months after the four-week journaling intervention. Data were gathered on standardized, reliable and valid measures of burnout, mood, existential well-being, and health-related quality of life, as well as a measure of job satisfaction developed for this study. Participants received a small monetary compensation for participating, and were eligible for a second financial award as an inducement for compliance with all requested data collection points. No significant group effects were observed, though time effects were seen that met or approached significant levels. All participants exhibited favorable change on measures of negative affect and physical health-related quality of life, with less salubrious trends seen on measures of positive affect and mental health-related quality of life. Compliance rates were encouraging for future applications (70% or better at all data points). Nonsignificant group effects may be due to small sample size and better than adjustment than normative samples at baseline. Nonetheless, the experimental group exhibited no distress secondary to participation, suggesting that journaling is safe, and potentially efficacious as a preventive measure. Further evaluation with a larger, more heterogeneous sample is warranted. One should note the low cost of implementing future journaling interventions, especially as a means of avoiding lost productivity or job turnover.