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Understanding how college students characterise and cope with chronic pain: a thematic analysis of expressive writing samples
  1. Kaitlyn Root,
  2. Sarah Nosek
  1. Department of Psychology, Saint Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sarah Nosek, Saint Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont, USA; snosek{at}


College students who experience chronic pain are a frequently overlooked population. This research attempts to provide insight into the language that college students use to describe their experiences with chronic pain, challenges they face and coping strategies they use. Over the course of 4 consecutive days, participants responded to an expressive writing prompt asking them to reflect on their emotions and thoughts related to being a college student with chronic pain. Writing samples were then analysed to identify themes pertaining to words with a positive or negative emotional valence, terms used to characterise pain, metaphors used to describe pain, challenges faced, and positive and negative coping strategies used. Results showed that participants were more likely to use negatively valenced words than positively valenced words to describe their pain. Several common words and phrases were used to characterise pain, including metaphors. Finally, participants reported a number of challenges associated with their lived-experience of chronic pain, as well as positive and negative strategies used to cope with those challenges. These findings help to put into perspective the language used to understand, and attempt to cope with, the challenges faced by college students experiencing chronic pain. Research must continue to investigate the needs of this population so that they can be properly supported physically, emotionally, socially and academically.

  • Pain management
  • therapeutic writing

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  • Contributors SN was responsible for the conception of this project, and KR was responsible for most of the writing. Both authors were equally responsible for data collection, analysis and interpretation. SN is the guarantor of the article.

  • Funding This project was supported by a grant from the Vermont Biomedical Research Network.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.