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The Healing Web

Bresnahan, Mary Jiang & Murray-Johnson, Lisa. (2002). The healing web. Health Care for Women International, 23, 298-407.

This study focuses on CMC of social support in an electronic health discussion group centered on menopause. Using Goldsmith and Albrecht (1993)’s social support as the theoretical background, the authors define social support as “the sense of well-being and comfort that women derive from participation in a discourse community devoted to health issues as well as the specific interactive exchanges with other participants that are used to conduct social support? (400). According to most social support models, effective support must be based on face-to-face interaction. The authors set out to test this. They examine data from a listserv, asynchronous women’s health discussion group comprising several hundred participants; using content analysis, two thousand messages were coded for thematic content categories. Three “content areas? emerged:
• communication problems with physicians;
• problems experienced with hormone replacement; and,
• discussion of alternative treatments.
In addition, messages were examined for evidence of support and it was concluded that messages met basic criteria for supportive interactions (personal perception of support, existence of a social network, and a stressful event that prompts people to seek support). They conclude that CMC “is available for women who desire to regain control over their midlife change? (406).

This study is among a range of studies that examine the effect of the internet’s perceived lack of social cues (Lea, 1992; Rice, 1987; Walther, 1992). The study also examines the internet’s potential in reaching previously unattainable populations (Gurak, 2001; Licklider, 1968; Wright, 2005, Van Gelder, 1990) and/or addressing difficult topics (Van Gelder, 1990; Pew, 2001). The authors conclude that the internet as a medium opens up communication in an area that was mainly treated with silence. Despite the internet’s lack of social cues, as compared with FTF communication, members of this group perceived social support and a sense of community. Some of the relationships even extended to FTF. One limitation of this study is generalizability; how might these findings be translating to other settings and topics?