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Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize, describe, and attend to emotions. A known correlate is emotional processing, the ability to orient to and use inner experiences for information. The goal was to examine emotional awareness during therapy among gynecologic cancer patients, identify baseline predictors, and explore the relationship between in-session emotional awareness and processing.
Psychotherapy and baseline data from a randomized controlled trial comparing a supportive counseling (SC) intervention and a cognitive-behavioral coping and communication (CCI) intervention were used. The sample was patients with gynecologic cancers randomized to either therapy (N = 246). Emotion episode transcripts from the first, middle, and sixth of seven in-person sessions were coded for emotional awareness using the Program for Open-Ended Scoring and emotional processing using the Experiencing Scale. Descriptive and regression analyses were conducted.
Participants had moderate in-session emotional awareness. SC participants exhibited higher levels of awareness in the first (p < 0.001) and sixth (p = 0.002) sessions than CCI participants. Awareness was positively correlated with emotional processing in the first and sixth SC sessions (r = 0.25 and 0.24, respectively) and all CCI sessions (r = 0.29–0.31). Baseline negative emotion expression was associated with awareness during the sixth SC session. Baseline cancer-specific distress was associated with awareness during the sixth CCI session.
Significance of results
SC may facilitate emotional awareness. Greater emotional awareness in therapy may facilitate emotional processing, which is an important component of most psychotherapies. Patients who are psychologically distressed may exhibit more awareness than others. Similarly, greater emotional awareness may signal greater patient distress.
Our aim was to compare changes in emotional processing by women newly diagnosed with gynecological cancer enrolled in either a coping and communication skills intervention (CCI) or a supportive counseling (SC) intervention. We examined the association between in-session emotional processing and patient-rated therapeutic progress.
Three therapy sessions with 201 patients were rated for the depth of emotional processing (peak and mode) during emotion episodes (EEs) using the Experiencing Rating Scale (EXP). Participants completed measures of dispositional emotional expressivity, depressive symptoms, and cancer-related distress before treatment began, as well as ratings of perceived progress in therapy after each session.
Peak EXP ratings averaged between 2.7 and 3.1, indicating that women discussed events, their emotional reactions, and their private experiences in sessions. A small proportion of patients had high levels of processing, indicating deeper exploration of the meaning of their feelings and experiences. Women in SC were able to achieve a higher level of emotional processing during the middle and later sessions, and during cancer-related EEs in the later session. However, emotional processing was not significantly associated with a patient's perceived therapeutic progress with SC. In the CCI group, higher levels of emotional processing were associated with greater session progress, suggesting that it may play an important role in patient-rated treatment outcomes.
Significance of results:
Newly diagnosed gynecological cancer patients are able to attend to their emotions and personal experiences, particularly when discussing cancer-related issues during both short-term SC and prescriptive coping skills interventions.