Background: Continued improvements in breast cancer treatment have increased the number of survivors who need to cope with adverse changes to their bodies.The needs of breast cancer survivors, regarding post treatment body image adjustment, are not always adequately met and may result in ongoing difficulties for the woman. Self-compassion, the capacity to adopt a kind, caring attitude to oneself in times of distress or loss, has been linked with decreased psychological distress and increased positive affect.
Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the cognitive and affective impact of inducing a self-compassionate mindset in breast cancer survivors regarding adverse bodily changes.
Methods: Breast cancer survivors (N=105) were recruited through an Australian consumer organisation, with participants completing a background questionnaire online, and then a paper based writing activity that focussed on difficulties regarding body image. Following completion of the background questionnaire, participants were randomly allocated to one of two writing conditions (unstructured or writing using self-compassionate prompts). Ratings of affect and body focused self-compassionate mindset were assessed immediately prior to, and following, completion of the writing activity.
Results: MANCOVA controlling for pre-intervention levels of affect and mindset, indicated a significant main effect for the experimental condition. Univariate tests revealed significantly lower low/irritable affect, improved positive affect and greater body focussed self-compassionate mindset compared to the control condition.
Conclusions: Writing according to prompts produced decreased low/irritable affect, improved positive affect and an increased self-compassionate mindset when breast cancer survivors were exposed to memories of difficult body image, compared with unstructured writing about these experiences. These findings provide preliminary evidence for the usefulness of the relatively simple and inexpensive self-compassionate-based writing intervention to address body image-related concerns in women with breast cancer.